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if, as thought awakens, the human spirit, weary of the play of
If the struggle to live and think aright was then, and is now, a struggle which a reasonable man may reasonably be expected to undertake, then the object striven for cannot be a mere illusion: the ideal is implied to be real and valid; there was a goal to which the noble hearts and minds of ancient Greece were pressing. If we ask whence they derived that ideal, and how they divined the goal, the answer is, “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of
the Almighty giveth them understanding. Hence on the one hand the Hellenic spirit could lend much of its intellectual form to historical Christianity; while, on the other hand, the value of the ideas thus historically assimilated has not yet been exhausted. Indeed, the religious element in Greek literature, properly studied, may yet help to meet what a thinker of our time has called “the deepest want of our age : a new definition of God.' (P. 1.)
Though we cannot agree with Professor Campbell in regarding a new definition of God' as a happy or an adequate mode of expressing what is undoubtedly an ever-recurring
want of humanity in passing from one stage of enlightenment to another, there can be no doubt that the only fruitful and the only scientific way of treating Greek religion, or any other religion, is to deal with it as a phase of the evolution of religion in general. It is a part of a larger whole; and, if it is to be viewed aright, it must be viewed in the light which a knowledge of the larger whole throws upon it. Important as it is to recognise fully and explicitly the distinction between religions and religion, and constantly to bear in mind that none of the forms which religion takes from time to time is an adequate expression of its spirit, it is yet more important to recognise the underlying unity of which all forms are but the manifestations, and the progressive revelation of which constitutes the evolution of religion. To discover wherein this underlying unity consists is a work essential to be done, if the science of religion is to make any further progress, and it is also precisely the point which until quite recently has been most neglected by that science.
The contemplation of creeds outworn, of beliefs which
men have lived and died for, but which we now have outlived so far that they seem grotesque and even repellent, is apt to disquiet the faith of some and to strengthen the scepticism of others. Those who are thus discouraged and those who are thus encouraged are alike wrong: neither can see the forest for the trees; both are tempted to imagine that, because religions are many, religion there is none. To their encouragement or discouragement, however, science, as sucb, rightly is indifferent. But the fallacy to which they fall victims is one which it is of vital interest to her to controvert. If there is no religion, there is no science of religion. If there is no underlying unity between religions, the law of continuity does not hold with regard to them, and there is no evolution of religion. These elementary considerations are obscured from the view probably by the difficulty of defining the underlying unity and of expressing the reality which resides not indeed behind, but rather (though in different degrees) in all forms of religion. The biologist, however, is confronted with identically the same difficulty when he attempts to define ‘life. But the difficulty does not lead him to the conclusion that life does not exist. It causes him indeed to reject from time to time definitions which are inadequate, or which are inconsistent with the facts that he has to account for. It does not lead him to doubt the reality of life in the various forms in which he studies it. Even the long array of extinct flora and fauna presented by the geologic record has not the depressing effect on him which the contemplation of creeds outworn has upon
the less scientific minds that concern themselves with the history of religion. Indeed, with a little more faith in science, they might derive considerable consolation from his example. When haunted by the somewhat unreasonable fear that religion may after all prove to belong to the pathology of mind, they might reflect that the
ogist does not regard life as a pathological affection of matter: he takes himself and his subject too seriously for that. When reluctant to face all the consequences of the fact that lower forms give way to higher, they might take comfort in reflecting that as the biologist has no reason to expect the advent of a higher species than man, so they need expect a higher form not than but of Cbristianity.
As it is easier for the biologist to define any given species or variety of animal than to define life itself, so it is easier for the student of religion to define any particular form of religion than religion itself. The reason is that each form has its limit: every system has its day, and, when the day is done, may be viewed in its entirety, and may be dealt with as a completed whole. But in the life of religion there is no finality: it is a feeling after God, a constant hungering and thirsting for righteousness, a perpetual struggling to do and think aright, an approximation to an ideal never fully realised. Thus, while a religion may be defined in terms stating what it is, religion must be defined in terms of what it tends to be. The form which religion takes in any given place and time is conditioned by the human imperfections of those in whom the spirit of religion manifests itself. The shape and course which religion actually took, subject as it was to the limitations of those imperfections, may be accurately defined. What, but for those limitations, it might have been, we cannot say. But the methods of the comparative sciences, when applied to religion, may enable us to form some conjecture. We cannot eliminate human imperfections from any religious system any more than we can eliminate friction entirely from any system of mechanism ; but the elimination may be carried out in various degrees in various systems, and so afford us some measure of the retardation which the friction of an imperfect mechanism causes.
The comparative science of religion must always be largely concerned with the human imperfections which deflect and pervert, check and thwart the religious impulse and religious aspirations of man; and human nature, or its limitations, is so much the same in all times and in all places, that the limitations themselves afford copious materials for comparison with one another and ample scope for the employment of the comparative method. The restricted range of the savage's knowledge, the poverty of his material resources, the low developement of his morality, the narrow bonds of his tribal system and social organisation, all confine his activity-physical, mental, emotional, and religious—to grooves which are strikingly similar everywhere. If in the same stage of culture he everywhere makes his weapons of flint and his vessels of earthenware, it is because everywhere he is still ignorant of the use of metals. If everywhere he uses the same misleading analogies to explain the action of natural forces, to account for the existence of life and of death, to justify his tribal customs, or to frame his mythologies and cosmogonies, it is because everywhere he is still in the darkness of ignorance.
But, though his limitations are so similar and their action so uniform, it is a mistake to imagine that their similarity is what the continuity of religion consists in, or that they constitute the whole of the facts of which the comparative science of religion has to render an account. Yet there has been a constant tendency in the science of religion to overlook the existence of the religious impulse, and to deny that religious aspirations are a motive force contributing to the forward movement of civilisation and of man. The mistake is the same as if we were to allege the absence of metal as the reason of flint implements or earthenware vessels, and were to overlook or deny the existence of the needs and purposes which they were created to satisfy. The similarity between the implements used by all peoples in the Stone Age is only partially accounted for by their ignorance of metals; the fundamental reason of the simi. larity is the fundamental similarity of the physical needs of
In the same way the fundamental similarity of other human needs--social, moral, and spiritual—is the fact indicated by the similarity which marks the social organisation, the moral institutions, and religious conceptions of all primitive peoples.
We reach the same conclusion if we take, so to speak, a longitudinal, instead of a transverse, section of culture. Rifle and bullet fulfil the same function as the bow and flint arrow-head; and the former weapon has been evolved through the cross-bow, out of the latter. A rifle is not a bow; the only points the two implements have in common are the function which they discharge and the human needs which they subserve. The motive force which has evolved the one weapon out of the other is the human need which has been constant throughout successive generations of men, and which has steadily accumulated a number of successive gradual improvements in the instrument which has for its function to meet that need. Modern science is as superior to the crude speculations and unverified guesses of the savage, as modern man's weapons are to the savage's. But his science has been evolved out of that of the savage, and still satisfies, though more completely, the same material wants, and still is prompted by the same intellectual aspiration to reach a satisfactory explanation of things, rerum cognoscere causas.
Thus, though human imperfections play a large part in all religions, though they condition the forins of religion and contribute largely to determine the shapes which it takes in different times and different places, it is not in those imperfections and limitations that the continuity of religion consists, nor do they constitute the underlying unity between all forms of religion. To take into account only the inpediments and obstacles which divert or pervert the current of the religious life, and to leave out of account the aspirations and needs, the impulse and tendency, which beat against those obstacles and sometimes overwhelm them, betrays a radical misconception of the function and sphere of the science of religion.
The forms of religion and of religious belief are, however, so diverse and often so contradictory that the attempt to discover wherein the unity of religion consists has frequently failed, and is often put on one side as hopeless. As long as the attempt is made to discover some belief or practice common to and characteristic of all forms of religion, and to see in that belief or rite the underlying unity of all religions, the attempt is probably foredoomed to failure. Either the belief selected for the purpose is one which might be accepted, with some straining and accommodation, as not doing gross injustice to the higher forms of religion-in which case the lower forms will fail to reach the standard, and the formula will, in consequence, not be all-embracing ; or else the formula, if all-comprehensive, will simply state some external characteristic which may be a mark common to all forms of religion, but which will contain no religious significance whatever. If the religious beliefs and rites of the lowest and dirtiest savages contain all that is essential in religion, the later additions of civilised religions must be mere surplusage. Otherwise the savage has not got hold of everything essential, and a definition which is adequate for his
religion will necessarily be inadequate for a higher form.
What constitutes the continuity of religion through all its various and manifold forms, from the lowest to the highest, is the fact that they are all expressions of the religious spirit, not that they are all varieties of the same expression. The problem they attempt to solve is the same, but the solutions are not the same. The continuity between the rifle and the bow consists neither in the materials used nor in the force employed, but in the purpose which the weapons are put to and the needs which they subserve. The gun is the more effective weapon of the two, but the function of the two is the same, though the forms are absolutely dissimilar and incapable of being brought under one and the same definition. Thus, though the forms of religion