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Chapter 4: Psychology and Sociology

Chapter 4
Psychology and Sociology1

NATURE and natural phenomena: consideration of religious phenomena substituted for that of the objects of religion.

I. PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OF RELIGIOUS PHENOMENA — Religious phenomena considered subjectively, objectively. The historical evolution of the religious sentiment — Religious phenomena explained by the laws of psychic life.

II. SOCIOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OF RELIGIOUS PHENOMENA — The advantages of the sociological point of view — The essence of religious phenomena: dogmas and rites — Insufficiency of the psychological explanation; religion as social duty.

III. CRITICISM OF PSYCHOLOGY AND OF SOCIOLOGY — The ambition of these systems — Are the explanations that they supply really scientific? — Are the human ego and human society resolvable into mechanical causes? — Psychology powerless to explain the feeling of religious obligation — Sociology, in its appeal to society, not only real, but ideal.

In the different systems which have hitherto occupied our attention, science and religion are set opposite one another like two given things, and the question raised is that of knowing to what extent and how, without infringing the principle of contradiction, the mind can allow their coexistence. This conception of the problem is not the only one possible.

When, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, science was definitely established on the double basis of mathematics and of experience, she asked herself what attitude she ought to take in regard to such entities as nature, life and the soul—these being generally regarded as given realities, though very different from the objects of experience and of mathematical demonstration. After having hesitated for a time, she thought of a distinction which seemed to solve the difficulty once for all Instead of considering nature, life and the soul as entities, science adopted the notion of them as physical, biological and psychical facts, given in experience; and, as to the universal essences of which these phenomena were the manifestation, she decided on ignoring them. The classic names of Physics, Biology and Psychology have been preserved, but they have now come to mean nothing more than the science of physical, biological and psychical phenomena respectively. With this change of standpoint, science has been obliged to bring within her own sphere certain realities which, as represented by tradition, seemed of necessity to be permanently inaccessible.

Can we not realise, in regard to religion, an analogous change of standpoint? Whereas, in considering religion and its aims as a single and universal entity, science appeared to be indefinitely restricted to furnishing an illusory explanation, what would happen if, in the place of religion, we put religious phenomena? These phenomena, in short, are the only thing that we find directly given. They can be observed, analysed, classified—like other phenomena. We are able, in respect of these phenomena, as in respect of others, to find out if they admit of being brought within the compass of experimental laws. Why should not religion, thus envisaged, become an object of science, as nature became on the day when this word was used simply to indicate the totality of physical phenomena?

Would the reduction of religion to religious phenomena involve the loss of any essential element? Only by the aid of such an element would it be possible to maintain the belief that, outside natural phenomena, i.e. physical objects, there is something which answers to the name of nature, and which, in some way, is capable of being grasped by us. In fact, for every mind liberated from metaphysical prejudices, if religious phenomena can be described with precision, and reduced to positive laws analogous to the laws of physics or of physiology, the problem of the relations between religion and science is no longer in existence: it re-enters into the general problem of the connection between science and reality—a problem that is, indeed, more verbal than real, seeing that science, as henceforth constituted, is just the fullest possible expression of reality.

When this method of regarding things is adopted, what becomes of those imperious needs—whether moral or religious—which human nature exhibits, and which have, in the end, won the respect of an Auguste Comte, of a Herbert Spencer, and of a Haeckel?


The Psychological Explanation of Religious Phenomena

Moral and religious needs are expressed in accordance with principles that appear to consciousness as evident and necessary. Such principles are those relating to the dependence of the finite upon the infinite, to the moral order of the universe, to duty, to equitable compensation, to the triumph of right. Now, an acute philosopher of the eighteenth century, David Hume, has shown, with respect to the principle of causality, how such a proposition, which seems to be imposed upon the mind as an absolute truth, may really be nothing more than the abstract interpretation and intellectual projection of internal modifications within the conscious subject. When I affirm a causal connection between A and B, I seem to be applying a principle given a priori, which I call the principle of causality. But this principle, as soon as I come to formulate it and to subject it to analysis, raises insoluble difficulties. In reality I yield to a habit, created in my imagination through the reiterated perception of the sequence A B. By reason of this habit, every time that A is presented, I expect to see B appear. And it is this habit that my mind expresses, in its own way, by the concept of causality. There is nothing real in what I call the principle of causality except the psychical disposition of which it is the formula. Already, through analogous reasoning, Spinoza, in criticising the feeling of free-will, had referred it to ignorance of the causes which determine our actions, combined with the consciousness that we have of those same actions.

In thus explaining certain ideas, no longer by realities distinct from thought, but by phenomena shut within consciousness, these philosophers inaugurated a veritable revolution—the transformation of Ontology into Psychology.

It is in accordance with this method that several thinkers, even at the present time, seek to bring all that concerns religion within the domain of the positive sciences.

The problem, so presented, consists primarily in observing and analysing the religious phenomena furnished by experience; and, then, in seeking the explanation of these phenomena in the general laws of psychical phenomena.

It cannot be said that at present we find complete doctrines, capable of being described as common to all specialists, and of being established on a definitely scientific basis. These investigations, still in the early stage, give rise to great differences of opinion. Accordingly, it is necessary to consider the methods, the questions and the hypotheses suggested, rather than the results that have been definitively obtained.

The starting-point of these investigations is the verification of facts as they are presented in the religious consciousness itself. Setting aside every preconceived idea, every theory, every system, the specialists analyse both past and present religions; and, from actual data, they deduce those psychical states, practices and institutions which are characteristic. The conception of religious phenomena reached in thus adopting the very standpoint of the religious consciousness, may be termed subjective.

The main inference to be drawn from the religious Phenomenon, in this sense, is that man learns thereby to consider himself as having intercourse with a superior and more or less mysterious being, to whom he looks for the satisfaction of certain desires. This initial conviction gives to all his emotions, to all his experiences, their special aspect and significance.

For the man who experiences faith alone, and who knows nothing of mystic feeling, union with God is the object of thought, of desire and of action, but it is not realised here and now, and can only be realised very imperfectly in this world. The mystic, on the contrary, is conscious of union with God as something that is a natural constituent of the human soul, and his task lies in the endeavour to keep it in mind and to make it the foundation of his entire life. While the simple believer proceeds from idea and action to feeling in order to attain union with God, the mystic starts from this very union and regards it as determining, first his feelings, then his ideas and actions.

The union with God which the mystic begins to enjoy in this life, is completely realised in a special experience called rapture or ecstasy. During this state the soul is distinctly aware of being alive in God and through God. Not that it acknowledges annihilation. According to the doctrine of the great mystics, it is, on the contrary, conscious of existing in the fullest sense of the word. Its life is so much the more intense through being in closer unison with the source of all life.

Such is the appearance that religious phenomena present when they are regarded from the standpoint of the religious consciousness itself. It would, doubtless, be very difficult—it might even appear impossible—to discuss the value of the assertions implied in these phenomena, if we were only able to consider them from this wholly intuitive standpoint. How can we prove to the man conscious of freedom that he is not conscious of freedom? How are we to contest a man's right to declare his sense of communion with God?

In order to criticise the spontaneous judgment of the mind, Hume (as we have seen) has conceived a way of observing the psychical phenomenon other than subjective intuition. He looks at the phenomenon from without, objectively; and he wants to know if what man assumes as existent has actual existence—if the object that he pictures as the cause of his feeling exists apart from the feeling that pronounces its existence; or if that object is merely the interpretation and imaginative projection of the psychical phenomenon itself. Similarly, it is through studying religious phenomena, no longer merely from the subjective standpoint of the religious consciousness, but from without and objectively, that the psychologist can hope to strip them of their supernatural semblances and to group them under the laws of science.

In this manner, psychology effects the reduction of religious phenomena in their entirety to three main categories: beliefs, feelings properly so called, and rites.

Beliefs are the representations of objects, of realities conceived as external to man. Viewed from the outside, they appear to have a close connection with the ideas, the knowledge, the intellectual and moral conditions of the period in which they are put forth, as well as with the particular opinions or longings of the individuals who profess them. In a general way, man fashions his gods after his own likeness, as the ancient Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, pointed out. St. Teresa expects the Lord to dictate what she ought to say from him to the bare-footed Carmelite Fathers. Now, the four very explicit recommendations that God orders to be put before them, are in such exact conformity with the prepossessions of St. Teresa herself, that we cannot escape the impression that God is, in this instance, only the echo of her own consciousness.

The study of religious feeling, as distinct from beliefs, raises a multitude of questions. What are the elements of this feeling? We are able to distinguish therein: fear, love, longing for happiness, the inclination towards fellowship with other men. These elements, moreover, are mingled in very different proportions, and present well-nigh innumerable aspects, according to the beliefs with which they are associated.

The culminating point of inward religious life is ecstasy, or the feeling of an immediate union with God. Seen from outside, this state consists: firstly, in concentrating the attention upon a single idea, or upon a limited group of ideas; secondly, in rapture, i.e. in the abolition or transformation of the personality. At the same time, the nervous system is in an abnormal state, characterised by the more or less complete suspension of sensibility and of movement. Ecstasy is not, moreover, an isolated phenomenon: it is that which sets the seal on a period of excitement, which alternates with a period of depression. Intense religious feeling is thus submitted to a more or less regular rhythm. God draws nigh, and then absents himself; phases of rapture are followed by phases of emptiness, and vice versâ. And we notice that these phenomena coincide with the states of excitement and of nervous depression.

Rites—which are the third element in religions—appear as phenomena realisable by man and possessing a virtue called supernatural, i.e. the special quality of being (after some unknown and unknowable fashion) the causes of other phenomena which are not directly within man's reach.

For the mystics, rite is, not an instrument, but a consequence. It originates in a certain state of the soul. This state, experienced as union with the divine omnipotence, engenders and determines, not only other psychical phenomena such as the transformation of the passions and of the character, but, further, physical phenomena—actual deeds.

In a general way, the religious rite expresses the idea of a causal relation between the physical and the moral, between the moral and the physical: the how of this relation is unfathomable by us.

It is such results as these that have been gained through observing religious phenomena from the objective standpoint. By adopting this same standpoint, we are enabled to trace the historical evolution of the religious sentiment.2

We may take as our starting-point, for example, the predominance of fear and of imagination, whence is derived the conception of divine beings especially powerful and terrible. After this, love and joy are gradually developed and gain the preponderance, while intellect and reason regulate the conceptions of the imagination. The deity is then incorporated, and, at the same time, becomes kind and gracious: religion, metaphysics and ethics are knit together into one rich and harmonious whole. It is the apex of religious evolution. At last, in a third phase, the intellectual element becomes, in its turn, preponderant, the equilibrium is disturbed, and religion is gradually supplanted by science—that science which is framed exactly with a view to satisfying the intellect.

In proportion as they extend further and deeper, it is clear that objective examination and analysis of religious facts lead us towards that psychological immanent explanation which the thorough - going psychologist seeks to establish.

The question set for his consideration is as follows: Should religious facts be explained (as the consciousness of the believer insists) by supernatural and mysterious interventions, or should the general laws of human nature offer a sufficient account of them?

Now, whatever phenomenon we consider, when once we have strictly reduced it to its objective and given content, when we have started definitely from the fact that science ought to retain, and from the manner in which this fact is represented in the subjective consciousness of the believer, we find—following the system which we may term psychology—that the phenomenon contains nothing which cannot be explained through the laws of ordinary psychology.

The feelings to which the religious sentiment is reduced—dread, attraction, self-absorption, desire of fellowship—are feelings natural to man. The monoïdeism and rapture which characterise ecstasy, together with the rhythm of which they form part, are only the exaggeration of the traits which belong to the affective life in general. It is in the nature of passion to concentrate on a single object all the energies of the soul. And alternation of excitement and depression constitutes the very law of the affective life. Phenomena analogous or even similar to mystical manifestations are easily recognised in certain nervous affections. Religious obsessions, the conviction as to the influence of God, of the Holy Virgin or of the devil, the delirium resulting from scrupulosity, the abiding notion of sacrilege, the mania of remorse and of expiation, are natural accompaniments and exact symptoms of definite hysterical states.

Intellectual or imaginative phenomena: beliefs, ideas, visions, revelations are also explained by mere psychical modifications of the subject, without our finding it necessary to suppose any transcendent reality whatsoever, of which they would be the effect and representation.

Transcendent explanations originate through the ignorance of the subject, and through the attempt of the imagination, guided by tradition and custom, to make up the deficiency. For the man who, thanks to temperament, to acquired notions, to personal experience and to the condition of the subject, possesses sufficient knowledge, the beliefs of this subject—the revelations and the visions of which he is conscious—no longer present anything new and miraculous. It is simply from the recesses of his memory that, unwittingly, man draws all the objects which appear to him as supernatural. God, speaking to St. Teresa, tells her what, unwittingly, she makes him say. Our desires, our fears, our prepossessions, our knowledge, our ignorance, our habits, our affections, our passions, our needs, our aspirations, furnish the substance of the beings that we bring down from on high to enlighten us and to give us succour. We fling ourselves forward—stronger, greater, better—in order to augment our powers through union with this other self. God is the self-aim that is here indicated. The method adopted in thus creating him, is unconscious. The ego, therefore, does not recognise itself in its creation; and if, perchance, an abnormal state of the nervous system determine within it a certain degree of exaltation, this creation will be for it the object, not only of belief, but of hallucinations of vision and of dread—quite on a par with what happens to the rest of our perceptions under certain conditions.

It is, then, no longer necessary to explain the mutual action of feeling, of belief and of rites upon one another, through the appeal to some supernatural intervention.

We may allow that, feeling being the one fundamental phenomenon, ideas are only an intellectual interpretation of it. There exists, at the present time, a wide-spread theory which reduces the rôle of the intellect to transforming into representations the feelings—unthinkable in themselves—of which we are conscious. To think a thing, is to explain it, i.e. to refer it to a cause, to a model, to an end of which the concept pre-exists in us. Our intellect, in order to explain our feelings, seeks thus some suitable principle which may be familiar to it. Since our activity is that which is most familiar to us, it is a cause analogous to our activity that the intellect first assumes. Then, in proportion as we know more about things, it draws in a curious manner from that treasury which we call our memory, in order to present us with objects and causes as proportioned as possible to the feelings which stir within us.

If we deem that it is, rather, ideas which, in the matter of religion, determine feelings, there is no need—as Pascal used to think—of divine grace, in order to bring down into the heart a truth recognised by the intellect. Human feeling is not alien to the intellect, it is only human in so far as—even under its humblest forms—it already partakes of intellect and idea. The endeavour to act on the feelings and on the conduct of man through ideas, through reason, is what we term philosophy. The very word reason has, in its common acceptation, a value that is at once theoretical and practical. Now, who would wish to maintain that all philosophy, all belief in the efficacy of idea and reason, is but scholarly prejudice? We experience every day how an idea, a doctrine, a system moulds our feelings, our affections, our passions. Is it not on actual record that the teaching of Rousseau produced a new way of loving and feeling among a large number of men? Are not our feelings to a large extent literary? The experiments of suggestion reveal the constraining power latent in ideas.

And, if we see in rites the main phenomenon, it is fruitless, in order to derive feelings and beliefs from them, to look for a supernatural virtue inherent in these observances; it is sufficient to invoke the natural influence of deed on thought, so powerfully indicated by Pascal in the famous saying: “Take holy water, and have masses said: quite naturally, that will enable you to believe, and will blunt your wit.”

Lastly, the regular evolution manifested, throughout the ages, by the religious phenomenon (taking the general effect of its development) is, in itself, proof that we are not dealing here with the manifestation of supernatural influences. The discovery of one general law of evolution controlling the history of nature, has led to the elimination of theological doctrines concerning the creation and the preservation of the universe. An analogous conclusion is inevitable with respect to religion, if its development is such that, conformably to a law, each new moment is necessarily-linked with the preceding. And this is just what we gather from the outline of religious evolution that the psychologists have already succeeded in giving.

To sum up, the hypothesis of a supernatural and mysterious cause of religious phenomena, such as religious beliefs seem to demand, would doubtless have to be maintained, at least provisionally, if the application of the psychological method to the interpretation of religious phenomena left an unexplained residuum. But, though it be clear that we cannot, in like manner, expect to know everything and to understand everything, the inference to be drawn from our knowledge of religious phenomena, as from that of physical phenomena, is this: we know enough about them to consider the scientific method as sufficing to indicate the way in which the phenomena have been produced. Reality will not offer us anything that, by the help of our principles, cannot be explained. There is for us an unknown—not an unknowable; an unexplained—not an inexplicable. For we explain psychologically, i.e. by the help of the human soul's general laws, the religious phenomenon understood in its essence; and this same essence will be found necessarily in every religious fact whatsoever.


The Sociological Explanation of Religious Phenomena

It is in this way that certain psychologists expect to find, in bare psychology based on physiology, the means requisite to explain, finally and exhaustively, all kinds of religious phenomena. Their success in this respect is generally contested by the representatives of an allied science, equally devoted to the positive study of human facts, but envisaging these facts under another aspect, viz. the sociologists.

According to the latter, psychology only incorporates religion through impoverishing and mutilating it, through suppressing that which is its peculiar and essential element. Psychologists fasten on the subjective side of the religious phenomenon, and are fond of seeing in mysticism the religious manifestation par excellence. But inward religion is, according to distinguished representatives of sociology,3 only a more or less vague and delusive echo of social religion as it appears in the individual consciousness. The mystic is an impassioned or meditative man, who adapts religion to life and to philosophy in his own special way. It is not in its derivative, perverted, subjective and doubtful forms that we ought to consider religion; if we are really desirous of expressing it scientifically, we should have regard to its reality as concrete, primary, general and objective. It is not the dreamers, the exceptional beings, the diseased, the philosophers, or the heretics that we must consult: it is the orthodox, the representatives of living, efficacious religion—of that religion which has been, which still remains an essential and important factor in the destiny of nations and of individuals.

Now, if we study, in this way, not the religious sentiment, but religions, we find that one of the essential notions belonging to them is that of the obligatory, of the forbidden, of the holy. Every religion is a moral power which imposes an obligation on the individual, which rules him, which thrusts upon him deeds or abstentions that are foreign to his nature. How is it possible for psychology to understand religious phenomena, seeing that she has only individual life at her disposal? The representatives of existing official religions—the men who form a true estimate of what religion is—are right in protesting against the feigned explanations of the psychologists. These explanations are nothing else than the sophisms natural to ignorance of the question. They emphasise in religion that which is not religion in the true sense, they pass by that which needs to be explained. Thus persist, in reality, after the psychologist has finished his task, those characteristics of religion which cause it to be regarded as a supernatural institution, irreducible to the data of science. And the philosophers are right in maintaining, against psychology, the principle of obligation and of prohibition—Kant's Categorical Imperative, with its transcendental origin. For the Kantian doctrine, on its negative side, very properly condemns the mistake made in believing that the idea of duty ought to be explained, as an illusion, by the mere operation of the laws relating to the individual conscience.

The reduction of religion to science, which the physical sciences fail to realise, is beyond the special powers of psychology; and we should have to give up all hope in this matter, if, above psychology, there did not exist a supreme science in the light of which the mystery of things is entirely dispelled: this science is sociology.

In order to make ready for the elimination of transcendental causes, and to explain all phenomena by purely natural laws, psychology has wrought the necessary change. For subjective observation, which offers only phenomena to be explained, she has substituted an observation that is objective. She has set herself to study psychical phenomena from without, just as the physicist studies physical phenomena.

But this undertaking is easier to state than to carry out, especially when religious phenomena are in question. We are aware that the mystic raises his voice strongly against the employment of this method, which, according to him, is strictly debarred from the religious province. The mystical phenomenon is an experience, and an experience that is inexpressible by concepts and words. Nobody understands this experience unless he has undergone it himself. Such an experience cannot be studied from without. All the external signs through which we claim to form an idea of it, are of no avail for its interpretation.

Whatever may be the value of the mystic's objection, it is certain that the idea of a purely external observation, in psychology, is far from being clear, specially seeing that the psychologists have substituted, as primary datum of consciousness, the synthetic psychical activity for the phenomena or states of consciousness—external to one another—that the associationist school assumes. In that very way, the application to psychology of the scientific determinism, by virtue of which the associationist theory had been conceived, became again arbitrary, vague and uncertain.

Sociology avoids these difficulties. She considers the facts with a bent which makes possible the application of a rigorously objective arid deterministic method. Indeed, in social phenomena, the conspicuous and objectively cognisable element is no longer a simple concomitant, a more or less accurate symbol of the reality which it is sought to reach: it is itself that reality, or else it is connected with it in an exactly assignable manner. What is called the soul of an individual is a reality, which differs, undeniably, from the phenomena which manifest it. But the soul of a community is merely a metaphor, of which the meaning does not go beyond the totality of those social facts which are external and visible. Having to deal with realities which are absolutely at one with their phenomenal manifestations, sociology admits of a precise and rigorous objectivity, which, for a long time perhaps, will be unattainable by psychology.

At the same time, it is evident that the sphere wherein she moves is much more extensive. Doubtless, all the characteristics that humanity exhibits in social life, ought to be found beforehand, actually or potentially, in the individual. But that which can only be an indeterminate and indiscernible possibility for the individual, is unfolded in communities, operates, evolves, and is expressed through noteworthy phenomena. The incredible richness of human nature, its marvellous power of adaptation, its fecundity in every sense, is only visible—only exists properly in external and collective life.

Seeing that she has such an exact object under her consideration, sociology ought to be able, in much greater measure than psychology, to submit human facts to scientific determination. Not without purpose did the metaphysicians, seeking the means of grouping facts under the idea of law, imagine behind these facts certain entities which regulated them. What guarantee have we that facts hold together, are driven into one another, form into systems, if there is no common principle underlying them? Ontology was nothing but a fictitious interpretation of this reducibleness of phenomena to one another that science postulates. It expressed by a hierarchy of concepts the supposed moments of the reduction. Ontology ought not to be set aside purely and simply; it should be replaced by a method which realises, through experience, the systematisation that it constructed more or less a priori. Now, psychology lacks that principle of cohesion and of systematisation, which is requisite for the sure determination of phenomena. In the soul, the ego, conscious or subconscious, we are presented with confused notions which can do no more than base the vague relation of substance on accident. On the other hand, a given community is a distinct fact, and the determinism which links with this community all the facts of which it is composed (as the unconditioned with its conditions), is not less scientific than that which links together the phenomena of a given system in the material world, such as the solar system. A science of observation, sociology makes ready to outstrip observation. It occupies—between History, on which it is grounded, and Ontology which supplies it with a raison d'être—an intermediate position, resembling in this respect every complete science which, besides the facts that, in themselves, only serve as materials, possesses a principle fitted to uphold and guide the systematisation of those facts.

It is, then, to sociology that we must look for the full explanation or scientific determination of religious facts, as of every human fact.

It follows from the very definition of sociology as a science that it does not undertake to study religion, but religious phenomena, and not even the indefinite totality of these phenomena, but the different class-manifestations into which they can be distributed. Like every science, it proceeds from the parts to the whole, from analysis to synthesis. Still hardly established, it is stronger in its studies of detail, its monographs, its historical investigations, than in its theories and generalisations. Having, meanwhile, analysed as completely as possible some of the most characteristic elements of religion—such as the notion of the sacred, of sacrifice, of rite, of dogma, of myth—sociology is now ready to point out the direction in which we ought to move if we wish to obtain really valuable scientific results.

And, in the first place, through her far-reaching inquiries, her historical studies, her comparative tests and analyses, sociology believes herself capable of determining with precision the real essence of religious phenomena. This essence is that which is found in all religious manifestations, what analysis distinguishes therein as the primary element to which all the others owe their existence and their character.

Now it is clear, in view of the labours of eminent sociologists, that this primary element is not what we call the religious sentiment; this latter is often at fault, and, where it actually exists, has the appearance of a very complex and contingent ensemble of derivative phenomena. Further, it is not belief, considered with respect to its object. Neither God nor the supernatural, conceived as substantial realities, is an essential element of religion, for they are often absent just where the religious phenomenon undoubtedly exists.

Invariably and pre-eminently, in all religious manifestations we find dogmas and rites; dogmas signify the sacred obligation of professing certain fixed beliefs, while rites are an accumulation of practices, similarly obligatory, having reference to the objects of these beliefs.

What we have to regard as essential here is that notion of the sacred, which is applied to certain objects, and which entails certain prohibitions or precepts. The thing regarded as sacred is a power which operates inevitably in an adverse or salutary sense, according as it is violated or reverenced. From this notion spring dogmas and myths, or theories and narrations relating to the nature and properties of sacred things. Out of this same notion proceed rites, or practices intended to overcome the hostile powers and to conciliate the beneficent powers.

These dogmas and these rites are the cause of the feelings and beliefs which are generated in souls. The sacred character of the object, together with the authority which it implies, is an argument for belief before which the intellect naturally bows. And the sum-total of emotions, of inclinations, of acts and of ideas, that instigates the relation with the sacred thing, develops and determines that sentiment—so intense and apparently special—which we call the religious sentiment.

In reality, there is no specifically religious sentiment, any more than a specifically religious belief. Sentiment and belief are, in themselves, identical, whether in religious life or in ordinary life. They are simply determined after another manner. In the religious life they assume a particular form, viz. obligation, resulting from the sacred character which is attributed to the object. This idea entirely pervades the creed and sentiment of the believer. It is his duty to believe; and the object of his belief is just the obligation of offering to the sacred thing the worship which is due to it. His sentiment is a combination of fear or of love with the idea of something inviolable, and with the impressions that determine in the soul the practice of obligatory rites. It consists in piety, in reverence, in scrupulosity, in adoration; it is either possession, or rapture. In all these psychical phenomena, we find merely the form, and not the substance of religion. Religious feelings and beliefs are ordinary beliefs and feelings, modified from without by the idea of the sacred or the obligatory.

That being so, we see clearly why psychology is unable to find, in the general laws of the psychical life, the unequivocal explanation of all the elements of religion.

Take, for example, the concept of obligation, the preponderating importance of which proceeds from the analyses of sociology. According to the psychologist, this concept is traced back: (1) to an abstraction, through which the natural and necessary bent of human activity towards certain objects is considered in its form only, being isolated as much from the acting subject as from the object pursued; (2) to an elaboration of this abstraction effected by the understanding, through its categories, with a view to practice. Thence it follows that obligation is merely an illusion.

But Kant has very properly restored the special character and supra-psychological origin of moral obligation. Therein we find a reality which, inexplicable by psychology, is not on that account illusory, but ought to be referred to an order of things superior to the individual conscience. What Kant demonstrated through his analysis of concepts, sociology proves through the statement of facts. Not only is obligation the constant and fundamental phenomenon of all religion; but everywhere, if we consider actual religions and not the artificial compromises or inventions of philosophers and dreamers, it appears as unrelated or even opposed to the natural leanings of the individual. It is no mere fancy which has been transformed into duty by the religions; the noblest and most salutary among them do not allow the individual to be submitted to rules that he would not freely recognise, or impose upon him acts which more or less violate his nature.

Undoubtedly, the religious phenomenon, though produced in the soul of the individual, surpasses it, and cannot be explained by its faculties alone.

Does this mean that there is nothing for us but to accept the transcendental system that religions profess with regard to their own origin? That system is, unquestionably, superior to the purely psychological explanations, since it takes into account, at any rate, the fact that has to be explained, instead of setting it aside a priori and in an arbitrary manner. And, for him who is not proficient in psychological studies, this system, to some extent, represents the truth provisionally. It is better, after all, to believe in some hypothetical or erroneous explanation of an existing law than to deny the law under pretext of not being able to explain it. Of what real moment is it that I see in duty a command of Jehovah, if, at least, I believe in duty and carry it into practice?

But the sociologist (and he alone) is not compelled to explain obligation as due to a transcendent cause; for he can furnish a natural equivalent of this transcendent cause—the ground, at once necessary and sufficient, of the phenomenon.

This equivalent is the action of the community upon its members.

A given community imposes naturally on its members certain obligations or certain prohibitions, the observance of which is regarded as the condition of its existence and its continuance. Doubtless, this society is only a collection of individuals. But, thus united, these individuals set before themselves certain ends that, as individuals, they ignore or reject. A collective will has no relation to the algebraical sum of individual wills. A community is a new entity; the expression “social soul” denotes, metaphorically, a positive truth. And, like everything that truly is, a given community tends to persevere in its being.

That is not all. Collective activity, once aroused, will not be confined to the particular object toward which it tends: it will exercise itself freely, without definite aim, according to the general law of activity which, of itself, pursues not only the necessary or even the useful, but the possible.

Hence, for individuals, many an obligation, the object of which will be found scarcely discernible, or even such as will have no other object than that of facilitating indeterminately the play of social activity.

Observation shows that religion is nothing else than the community itself, enjoining upon its members the beliefs and actions that its existence and development require. Religion is a social function.

The essentially social character of religious action explains, no less clearly than the Divine Transcendence of the theologians or than the universality of the Kantian Reason, the element of obligation inherent in every religious phenomenon; for the community is, moreover, outside and above the individual. Still further, the community is an observable and tangible reality; and so, it is through a fact, and not through a concept or an imaginary existence, that sociology explains the fact of obligation.

As to feeling and belief, they are, from the sociological standpoint, the echo, in the individual consciousness, of the compulsion exercised by the community on its members. This compulsion, the principle of which cannot be grasped by the individual as such, is for him—quite logically—an object of faith, of hope, or of love, and determines the infinite variety of his religious emotions. Even for him who would make clear to himself the social origin of religious phenomena, these phenomena, in becoming purely natural, lose nothing of their value; since it remains, for the sociologist as for the average man, that the individual, by himself, can neither impose his will on the community; nor foretell the end and aim thereof. In proportion as he learns, through observation, to conjecture what is implied in the evolution of the social group wherein his lot is cast, he becomes, submissively and without any thought of self, the instrument of the preservation and well-being of that same group.


Criticism of Psychology and of Sociology

The importance of psychology and of sociology, if these systems are well founded, is considerable. They effect a radical change in the problem raised by the relations between science and religion. Instead of placing religion opposite science and inquiring if the latter is in harmony or in disagreement with the former, these systems actually bring religion within the special sphere of the sciences: they put the science of religions in the place of religion. Religion exists—it is a given fact. Why, in our treatment of this fact, should we isolate it from others? How can we dispute this course, and why are we afraid of it? The true scientific attitude does not consist in assuming a priori that some fact is strange—perhaps supernatural—and in seeking to get rid of it: it consists in analysing the fact as we do others, and in finding room for it within the general system of natural facts.

It is also to be noted that, in the religious sphere, this method, if it succeed, will lead, sooner or later, to the abolition of the fact itself, while the dogmatic criticism of religions has striven in vain, for centuries, to obtain this result. Indeed, in the religious fact is implied the idea of objects, of forces, of feelings, of states which cannot be reduced to ordinary phenomena, which cannot be explained according to the methods of science. It is in so far as they ignore or reject the scientific explicability of the elements of religion, that men are religious; and religion has only been able to exist owing to the non-existence of a science dealing with the natural causes of the religious phenomenon. Contrary, then, to the other sciences, which leave standing the things that they explain, the one just mentioned has this remarkable property of destroying its object in the act of describing it, and of substituting itself for the facts in proportion as it analyses them. Established in mind and conscience, the science of religions will no longer treat of the past.

Is it certain, however, that psychology or sociology furnishes the science of religions with all the data which would be needed, in order that it should be constituted a science properly so-called?

We must distinguish between the scientific form and science. Scholasticism possessed the form—not the content of science. The ethical sciences, if we reduce them to statistics and calculations, would have the appearance, not the real value, of a mathematical science. In order that a science may exist in a true sense, the scientific form must be therein applied to a content which, drawn from reality, lends itself, unalterably, to receive that form. Is this the case with the systems that we have been considering?

The theory of genuine science has been framed by Descartes in terms which, in a general way, still harmonise with actual science. Science is a reduction of the unknown to the known, of the inexplicable to the explicable, of the obscure to the evident.

The first step to be taken by science is that of determining, somehow, the evident or the intelligible. Now, we gain the standard of evidence through distinguishing, in our representations, two elements—two poles as it were, viz. the subject and the object. On the side of the subject, nothing else than the intellectual activity which constructs science, but assumes as given the standard of scientific intelligibility, instead of furnishing it. It is on the side of the object, stripped of every subjective element, that we find our primary knowledge, with which all the later stages ought to be compared or connected if we wish them to be strictly scientific. This knowledge is that of extension or dimension, together with the various kinds of existence that are enchained therein, i.e. mathematical objects in general. Thus we find the first stage in knowledge, to which science has to refer and submit all the rest, if possible.

The task of science can be stated, yet again, as follows: to determine facts and laws. In order to be understood, this formula should be compared with the preceding. It is not facts and laws of any kind whatsoever that science seeks, it is scientific facts and laws, i.e. facts that are precise, measurable, objective, really intelligible—in other words mathematical, or reducible (whether directly or indirectly, and by degrees) to mathematical facts.

Are psychology and sociology, considered as dealing with religion, capable of exhibiting such facts and such laws?

The psychological method here in question is that on which David Hume decided in his famous reduction of the principle of causality to a habit of the imagination. Now, this method consists in regarding the object as unintelligible, in so far as we consider it in itself—setting aside the subject which imagines it. It only becomes intelligible through being attributed to an illusion of the subject in unconsciously projecting outside himself that which happens within. It is of little consequence that the object is clearly perceived. This clearness, which, moreover, is only apparent, results from an artificial transformation that the mind effects in its internal modifications for the purpose of considering them from the outside—this being the very condition of clear knowledge. In short, Hume changes the meaning of the word to be explained. It is no longer any question here of referring the obscure to the clear, of comparing the unknown with the known, but of seeking the origin and real (i.e. immediately given) foundation of the apparent and the derivative. The explanation is no longer the reduction of the subjective to the objective: it is the reduction of the objective to the subjective.

Notwithstanding what this involves, psychology, when it wishes to be explanatory—i.e. when it is not content with taking the inventory of the physical and moral symptoms which are found in the religious phenomenon—employs the method of Hume, refers beliefs to states of consciousness, and dissolves objects in order to leave standing the subject's modifications. And so it turns its back on science properly so called.

If this psychology takes the name of science, it must be pointed out that this word, as here used, implies merely a very vague resemblance to the physical and natural sciences. The task of psychology, since it succumbed to associationism, has been to explain psychical phenomena by the special qualities of consciousness, regarded in its living reality. But what is consciousness? Is it altogether in the present; or, charged with the past, has it, at the same time, an eye cast upon the future? Can we no longer hold that its function, par excellence, is to seek, for the individual, ends which pass beyond him; to ask, in view of what he is, what he may yet be, what he ought to be; to convince him that his existence and his action have a value, are able to assume one—admit of a rôle, a mission, a contribution to the progress of humanity and of the universe? But what is all this if not the admission of religious impressions; and, in thus taking consciousness for principle, is not the psychologist, perchance, landing room for religion itself at the heart of his system?

Sociology proceeds in a more genuinely objective manner. Is it certain, however, that she herself is concerned with facts and laws which are scientific in the strict sense? The physicist who has once found the means of expressing the scale of heat sensations by changes in the elevation of his liquid column, has no longer any need of consulting his subjective appreciation of heat. But the sociologist can make use of his objective documents only through considering them as mere symbols of the subjective realities with which he is ideally supplied by consciousness. In reality, the distinction that he sets up between sociology and psychology is delusive. Under all his formulas, in all his explanations, a psychological element—irreducible and indispensable—is concealed. After all, it is men who form human communities, and what we call the collective soul has real existence in individuals alone. Are we, then, to regard these individuals as composed of two separable fragments—the individual ego on the one side, and a fraction of the social ego on the other?

Human society is not an object, it is a subject. That which is therein real and living—which is the motive and the characteristic adapted for explaining the phenomena in so far as they are explicable—is found, in the last analysis, to be the wants, the beliefs, the passions, the aspirations, the illusions of the human consciousness. Not only is society a subject; but, contrary to the individual consciousness, which is in some measure, a given subject, the collective consciousness is an ideal subject. It is still further than the individual subject from realising the idea of scientific fact. Besides, it is not clear why the reduction of a religious fact to the conditions of existence and of improvement that underlie human communities, should necessarily have the consequence of naturalising religion.

Since religious precepts and rites have shaped human communities properly so called; since, as Protagoras taught, instruction concerning decency and righteousness has engendered politics and tightened the bonds of affection amongst men, the purely natural (i.e. mechanical and inevitable) origin of religious phenomena is not demonstrated in that way. If the community itself, once somehow established, gives instinctively and spontaneously to its institutions a religious character in order that they may have more prestige and more power, we may infer that the community pursues an ideal not easily realisable by the individual consciousness. May not, then, the conception, the pursuit of this ideal be, itself, the effect of a religious inspiration?

Like consciousness, human society is a sphere revealing depths which it is difficult to fathom. There is nothing to prove that religion does not play therein the part of a principle instead of a mere instrument.

Why need we be troubled, some will object, as soon as psychology and sociology demonstrate that religious phenomena have nothing special in them, and that they are, in every respect, reducible to the fundamental phenomena of the psychological and social life? Let us admit that something of what is called religion may be presupposed by consciousness and by society. This element no longer suggests anything extra-scientific, if it is equally present in all human phenomena. Regarded as immanent and universal, how does it differ from nature pure and simple?

We meet, here, with the arguments through which psychology and sociology believe that they can deprive the religious phenomenon of every special characteristic. Of what value are these arguments?

Psychology endeavours, first of all, to show that the religious phenomenon is, literally, nothing but a phenomenon, a state of consciousness. The transcendent entities that religion invokes are delusive: they are but the ego itself, externally projecting some one of its determinations with a view to contemplation, just as consciousness does in representing the outside world, and as the special constitution of the human ego demands. Whatever object it may have before it, the ego is only concerned with self; and, if it takes the projection of its subjective states for independent realities, it is because the transformation of an internal modification into an external object occurs within it unconsciously.

Even if we allow this theory, does it hit the mark? It brings to naught, assuredly, a material Olympus situated in some part of our terrestrial space, or a God regarded as the celestial inhabitant of unknown regions beyond the star-spangled vault. But the religious consciousness is no longer concerned with these material aspects of the divine.

If we understand by transcendence an existence outside of man, in the spatial sense of the word, the modern religious consciousness is foremost in declaring that a transcendent God, in this sense, is a factitious and purely imaginative concept. It is precisely with respect to God that the words transcendence, externality, objectivity require to be apprehended as simple metaphors. The progress of religion has consisted in transferring the Divine from the outside to the inside of things, from heaven to the human soul. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” says the Gospel. Similarly Seneca has it: Non sunt ad caelum elevandae manus…: prope est a te Deus, tecum est, intus est.”4 In other words, God is conceived, not as external to the religious phenomenon, as producing it or responding to it from without—all such representations making of him a corporal being similar to others; but as internally related to this phenomenon, and as distinguishing himself from the human being in a unique manner, without any natural analogy, at all events without any resemblance to the spatial distinction that the imagination sets forth under the word transcendence. This is what is meant by spirituality, which the higher religions consider as the special token of the Divine.

We have still to discover what the religious phenomenon is in itself. According to psychology, nothing is found therein which really distinguishes it from ordinary phenomena. The usual laws of psychology give a sufficient account of it. Psycho-physiological experimentation is able to illustrate religious phenomena, particularly by means of certain nervously affected subjects, just as it calls forth other psychical manifestations.

Numerous and important are the studies conceived after this method: it does not appear, however, that they succeed in elucidating the exact point which is here in question. It is not only that the determination of facts and of laws, in these matters, scarcely admits of precision and closeness. We must ask if the method followed is quite suitable for penetrating the essence and characteristic of the religious phenomenon.

This method is or intends to be objective; it aims at being so to the utmost possible extent, in order to reach really scientific results. What is this but to say that it will only consider facts in those of their elements which are referable to general facts? Objective means representable; and, for the human mind, to represent a thing is to make it reappear in a familiar framework. That is why objective psychology sets herself to consider exclusively the materials, the manifestations, the groundwork or physiological circumstances—in a word, all the outside appearances of the religious phenomenon. These are, in fact, the elements which it has in common with other phenomena. But, in this very way, she will inevitably overlook what may well be taken as the special mark of the religious phenomenon.

And it is certain that the believer will fail to recognise what he experiences, what, for him, constitutes religion, in the descriptions of the religious phenomenon that are given from this standpoint. He will reply to the scientist who delusively expects, through objective examination, to comprehend the elements of the religious life, what the Earth-Spirit in Goethe's Faust replies to Faust himself:

Du gleichst dem Geist, den du begreifst, Nicht mir.5

Indeed, religion is just that entirely inward, subjective content of consciousness, which scientific psychology thrusts aside in order to attend solely to the objective phenomena that are concomitant. Its distinguishing characteristic is to surpass these phenomena infinitely:

Erfüll davon dem Herz, so gross ea ist,

Und wenn du ganz in dem Gefühle selig bist,

Nenn es dann wie da willst,

Nenn's Glück! Herz! Liebe! Gott!

Ich babe keinen Namen

Dafür 1 Gefühl ist alles;

Name ist Schall und Rauch,

Umnebelnd Himmelsglut.6

But is there not illusion there, and may it not be that this subjective element is interpretable by an objective phenomenon, as the sensation of heat is expressible by the rise of an alcoholic column?

So far as the psycho-physiological conditions of the religious phenomenon are concerned, it is remarkable that not a few sociologists agree with the believer in denying that these can supply an exact account of the contents of the religious consciousness. The explanations that they furnish leave a residuum. Not that one can point out a phenomenon which remains independent and isolable in the depths of the religious consciousness, like a refractory substance at the bottom of a crucible. But the religious consciousness has a certain tinge, a distinctive mark, a special mould, that psychology overlooks, or that it regards merely as delusive and as calling for denial. It comprehends the idea of the sacred, of the obligatory, of something required by a Being who is greater than the individual, and on whom the latter depends. In truth, the religious element is shown in these things, and, as if from without, it bestows upon the concomitant phenomena a character that, by themselves, they would not acquire. If exaltation and melancholy assume, with particular subjects, the religious form, it is not because there is religious melancholy and exaltation: it is because there exist in the world religious ideas which the subject has realised, and which are impressed upon his imagination.

With a considerable number of persons, religion is simply imitation, it is not inwardly experienced in their feelings or in their beliefs. These persons reflect the sphere in which they live, the influences to which they submit. Placed amid other conditions, they could enjoy feelings and passions, psychologically similar—the same way of believing, of loving, of willing, and yet these phenomena would not have a religious character. Religion, within those souls which it really invades, is—one may say—a value that is unique and infinite: attributed, not by the imagination, but by consciousness properly so called, to certain ideas, to certain feelings, to certain actions, with a view to ends which surpass humanity. This form of consciousness goes beyond all objective psycho-physiological symbols. The individual, with an inward horizon limited to these symbols, could only consider the religious idea as a chimera and a nonentity.

Perhaps, however, there may be, even adopting the psychological standpoint, a way of attributing a genuine value to the religious idea: we can, for instance, regard consciousness as a communication (conscious at one extreme, vague and quasi-unconscious at the other) of the individual with universal life and being. The religious sentiment would, then, be the instinct or secret perception, so to speak, of the dependence of the part upon the whole.

But it is clear that such a doctrine would not only go beyond all objective psychology, but would be the rehabilitation and glorification of subjective psychology, seeing that to this latter would be conceded the power of probing, beyond the objectifiable part of the soul, to the depths of infinite being.

Objective psychology can see, in religious obligation, and in the train of ideas which accompany it, nothing else than illusions. But its arguments are not convincing, and all that they succeed in establishing is that, for the individual, the belief in obligation, in duty, in the sacred, is a faith, an adhesion that is contingent and disinterested. A faith, however, in order to be approved by reason, should be founded on intelligible motives. Where can the motives of faith in duty be found? Sociology is prepared to furnish them.

Social activity, which is a given reality, has certain conditions of existence and of operation. We find therein, contends the sociologist, necessities which have their origin outside the individual, and which are imposed upon him. The feeling of obligation is nothing but the consciousness that the individual gains in regard to these higher necessities. According to this conception, the individual is ruled, constrained, raised by religion as by a wholly external power. The social and religious man is, in respect of the natural man, like a higher kind of being who is nearing the suppression of his former nature.

Is it right, however, to relegate, in this way, to the lower plane (to consider, in short, as unimportant) the subjective and individual element of religion? Doubtless, the mysticism and inward life of the believer do not offer, to the external observation of the sociologist, suitable material, like political or ecclesiastical institutions. Does it follow that they are without importance? Perhaps, if we consider the most rudimentary manifestations of religion, we shall find this inward element, as seen therein, of very little significance and importance. But is it enough, in order to find out what religion is, to look for its historical starting-point, and indifferently to connect therewith the subsequent phenomena by a continuity of fact? How, in matters of this kind, can we argue from historical continuity to logical identity? Such an element of religion, which was first of all imperceptible, cannot have become considerable and essential. A consciousness which seeks self-apprehension, ends by discovering itself in ideas and feelings to which at first it only gave a wandering attention. An effect is able to detach itself from its material cause, and to develop itself at will.

Now, it is a fact of experience that religion, whatever its primitive form may have been, has become, among civilised nations, more and more personal and inward. Long ago the Greeks, with their profound feeling in regard to the value and power of man, transferred to the human consciousness the moral and religious struggles, which, according to the ancient legends, took place in a region beyond man, and determined his destiny without regard to his own effort.

The prophets of Israel and the teaching of Christ have, in this connection, brought out the preponderance of inward disposition; affirming that religious souls tend more and more to the belief that, just where these dispositions are lacking, there is no religion whatsoever. The difficult task, to-day, for religious authorities, is that of maintaining belief in the utility of religious externalities among minds for whom religion is, pre-eminently, an affair of the individual consciousness.

Far from implying the effacement of the individual, religion—as presented to us to-day—stands for its exaltation, at least if we have regard to that higher form of individuality which is properly called personality. The individual, through union with the object his worship, i.e. with the source of all being, expects to become, in the truest sense, himself. Thus, in the Christian Trinity, the three hypostases are veritable and distinct persons, on the very ground that, being inwardly united, they form but one single God. It is this special, and, as it were, supernatural relation that the ancient adage already indicated: πως δέ μοι ἕν τι τὰ πάντα ἔσται καὶ χωρὶς ἕκαστον; “How can all things form, at once, a single whole and have, each, a separate existence?” Religion consists in believing that there is one being, God, who realises this miracle through the beings that live in him.

But, it will be said, nothing hinders the view that this very development of a higher individualism, revealing a natural trend towards the general well-being, has its origin, on close examination, in the necessities and in the activity of social life; that, if personality is apprehended by consciousness, not as an instrument, but as an end, we are then supplied with one case, among many others, of that transformation of means into ends which the human consciousness effects naturally.

Nothing can be more certain than the religious value and influence that is attributed by sociology, in this way, to the social bond. And it is remarkable that she finds herself, in this respect, at one with the very ideas of Christianity. Thus, we read in the First Epistle of St. John: “No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The whole point lies in knowing of which community we are speaking when we explain by social influence the production, amongst men, of religious ideas and feelings.

Are we speaking of any community whatsoever, taken in its actual and observable reality? Is sufficient that a community exist in order that its conditions of existence, of preservation and of development be interpreted, in the consciousness of its members, by moral and religious obligations?

We can quite easily conceive that, in their ignorance and weakness, men allow certain necessities to be imposed upon them as categorically binding, which, in reality, are only hypothetical or problematical. But it is evident that, on the day when, instructed by the sociologists, they shall discover the mystification of which they are the object, they will cease to have, for social institutions, that superstitious reverence which previously possessed them. They will be able to continue their appreciation of these institutions as relatively stable and useful: they will no longer regard them as sacred.

Often, indeed, the idea that political institutions are derived, in a unique manner, from the conditions of existence belonging to given society, arouses in men the wish to modify them, much more than the desire for their maintenance. For these very conditions are not unalterable. They have changed, therefore they can still change. Now, man is so constituted that, for him to believe in the possibility of change, is next door to desiring it. And here is the remarkable thing: it is principally the religious spirit which disposes the individual to pass judgment upon institutions, to regard them as purely accidental or human, to rebel against them. The higher religious minds have assumed the attitude, with respect to e community, of representing, in themselves alone, right and truth, seeing that God was behind them; whereas, behind given communities, they saw only nature, and circumstances. Far from the religious consciousness consenting to be merged in the social consciousness, it inclines man to put the claims of God in opposition to those of Cæsar—personal dignity in opposition to public constraint.

How could real society pretend to satisfy the consciousness of the believer? Does it, indeed, in its actual presentment, offer justice, love, goodness, knowledge, happiness, just as, for faith, these are realised in God?

Evidently, it is not of real and given society that we are speaking, when we explain, by the sole action of society, the religious attributes of the human soul; it is of ideal society, it is of society, in so far as it strives after that justice, that happiness, that truth, that superior harmony, of which religion is the expression. It is in so far as real communities already partake, in some measure, of that invisible community and tend to be conformed thereto, that they inspire reverence, that they justify the obligations which they lay upon individuals.

The ideal community has, in truth, an intimate connection with man's religious aspirations. The religious consciousness is, itself, considered as an instrument specially adapted for working towards its realisation. But the ideal community is no longer something definite and given which can be compared with a physical fact; to explain religion by the exigencies of this community, is no longer to resolve it into political or collective phenomena that can be observed empirically.

The ideal community is conceived and pictured by individuals—by the highest moral and religious minds of a nation. It tends to endow the individual (whom nature sacrifices) with his maximum of development and of value, at the same time forming, through the union of individuals, a whole more truly one, more harmonious, more beautiful than the combinations created by mechanical forces, or by instinct and tradition pure and simple. It tends to promote, to the highest degree that human nature allows, reverence for those spiritual things which are, one may say, of no actual service: justice, truth, beauty. These objects of thought, for which simple nature finds no place and with which she has no concern, it fashions into the supreme utility. In short, it assumes religion, is inspired by religion (being very far from fabricating it), and is, as it were, an appliance used for the purpose of bending the individual to ends which are repugnant to him.

At the root of all social progress is found an idea sprung from the depths of the human soul, and embraced as true, good, and realisable, while it represents a new thing, a chimera perhaps—a thing that is not already verified or recognised as capable of enduring. This idea is taken for object, because man sees therein, or thinks that he sees therein, an expression of the Ideal.

At the root of all social progress are found faith, hope and love.

Human consciousness and human society furnish science with the deepest principles that can be found for explaining religion, because it is in these two spheres that the religious principle is most clearly manifested.

  • 1.

    The terms “Psychology” and “Sociology” are used, in this chapter, with a special significance; hence Monsieur Boutroux writes “Psychologisme” and “ Sociologisme.” Our author is examining the respective claims of those who systematically maintain that the psychological, or the sociological explanation of religious phenomena, is adequate.—Translator's note.

  • 2.

    Th. Ribot, La Psychologie des sentiments.

  • 3.

    L'Année sociologique, published under the editorship of E. Durkheim.

  • 4.

    To raise the hands toward heaven is useless: God is nigh unto thee, he is with thee, he is within thee.

  • 5.

    Thou art matched with the spirit that thou comprehendest—not with mine.

  • 6.

    Goethe, Faust: Fill thy heart with the invisible, great though it be. And, when thou art wholly blest in the feeling, call it then what thou wilt—Felicity! Heart! Love 1 God! I have no name for it. The feeling is everything: the name but sound and smoke, a mist obscuring the light of heaven.