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Andrew Lang

The Making of Religion: Conclusion

The Making of Religion: Chapter XVII (1900)

Published on: Saturday 27 January 2007

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Andrew Lang, ’Conclusion’, The Making of Religion, (Chapter XVII), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 290-304.


We may now glance backward at the path which we have tried to cut through the jungles of early religions. It is not a highway, but the track of a solitary explorer; and this essay pretends to be no more than a sketch—not an exhaustive survey of creeds. Its limitations are obvious, but may here be stated. The higher and even the lower polytheisms are only alluded to in passing, our object being to keep well in view the conception of a Supreme, or practically Supreme, Being, from the lowest stages of human culture up to Christianity. In polytheism that conception is necessarily obscured, showing itself dimly either in the Prytanis, or President of the Immortals, such as Zeus; or in Fate, behind and above the Immortals; or in Mr. Max M¸ller’s Henotheism, where the god addressed—Indra, or Soma, or Agni—is, for the moment, envisaged as supreme, and is adored in something like a monotheistic spirit; or, finally, in the etherealised deity of advanced philosophic speculation.

It has not been necessary, for our purpose, to dwell on these civilised religions. Granting our hypothesis of an early Supreme Being among savages, obscured later by ancestor-worship and ghost-gods, but not often absolutely lost to religious tradition, the barbaric and the civilised polytheisms easily take their position in line, and are easily intelligible. Space forbids a discussion of all known religions; only typical specimens have been selected. Thus, nothing has been said of the religion of the great Chinese empire. It appears to consist, on its higher plane, of the worship of Heaven as a great fetish-god—a worship which may well have begun in days, as Dr. Brinton says, ’long ere man had asked himself, "Are the heavens material and God spiritual?"’—perhaps, for all we know, before the idea of ’spirit’ had been evolved. Thus, if it contains nothing more august, the Chinese religion is, so far, beneath that of the Zuñis, or the creed in Taa-roa, in Beings who are eternal, who were before earth was or sky was. The Chinese religion of Heaven is also coloured by Chinese political conditions; Heaven (Tien) corresponds to the Emperor, and tends to be confounded with Shang-ti, the Emperor above. ’Dr. Legge charges Confucius,’ says Mr. Tylor, ’with an inclination to substitute, in his religious teaching, the name of Tien, Heaven, for that known to more ancient religion, and used in more ancient books—Shang-ti, the personal ruling deity.’ If so, China too has its ancient Supreme Being, who is not a divinised aspect of nature.

But Mr. Tylor’s reading, in harmony with his general theory, is different:

’It seems, rather, that the sage was, in fact, upholding the tradition of the ancient faith, thus acting according to the character on which he prided himself—that of a transmitter, not a maker, a preserver of old knowledge, not a new revealer.’ [1]

This, of course, is purely a question of evidence, to be settled by Sinologists. If the personal Supreme Being, Shang-ti, occupies in older documents the situation held by Tien (Heaven) in Confucius’s later system, why are we to say that Confucius, by putting forward Heaven in place of Shang-ti, was restoring an older conception? Mr. Tylor’s affection for his theory leads him, perhaps, to that opinion; while my affection for my theory leads me to prefer documentary evidence in its favour.

The question can only be settled by specialists. As matters stand, it seems to me probable that ancient China possessed a Supreme Personal Being, more remote and original than Heaven, just as the Zuñis do. On the lower plane, Chinese religion is overrun, as everyone knows, by Animism and ancestor-worship. This is so powerful that it has given rise to a native theory of Euhemerism. The departmental deities of Chinese polytheism are explained by the Chinese on Euhemeristic principles:

’According to legend, the War God, or Military Sage, was once, in human life, a distinguished soldier; the Swine God was a hog-breeder who lost his pigs and died of sorrow; the God of Gamblers was un décavé.’ [2]

These are not statements of fact, but of Chinese Euhemeristic theory. On that hypothesis, Confucius should now be a god; but of course he is not; his spirit is merely localised in his temple, where the Emperor worships him twice a year as ancestral spirits are worshipped.

Every theorist will force facts into harmony with his system, but I do not see that the Chinese facts are contrary to mine. On the highest plane is either a personal Supreme Being, Shang-ti, or there is Tien, Heaven (with Earth, parent of men), neither of them necessarily owing, in origin, anything to Animism. Then there is the political reflection of the Emperor on Religion (which cannot exist where there is no Emperor, King, or Chief, and therefore must be late), there is the animistic rabble of spirits ancestral or not, and there is departmental polytheism. The spirits are, of course, fed and furnished by men in the usual symbolical way. Nothing shows or hints that Shang-ti is merely an imaginary idealised first ancestor. Indeed, about all such explanations of the Supreme Being (say among the Kurnai) as an idealised imaginary first ancestor, M. Réville justly observes as follows: ’Not only have we seen that, in wide regions of the uncivilised world, the worship of ancestors has invaded a domain previously occupied by "Naturism" and Animism properly so called, that it is, therefore, posterior to these; but, farther, we do not understand, in Mr. Spencer’s system, why, in so many places, the first ancestor is the Maker, if not the Creator of the world, Master of life and death, and possessor of divine powers, not held by any of his descendants. This proves that it was not the first ancestor who became God, in the belief of his descendants, but much rather the Divine Maker and Beginner of all, who, in the creed of his adorers, became the first ancestor.’ [3]

Our task has been limited, in this way, mainly to examination of the religion of some of the very lowest races, and of the highest world-religions, such as Judaism. The historical aspect of Christianity, as arising in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, would demand a separate treatise. This would, in part, be concerned with the attempts to find in the narratives concerning our Lord, a large admixture of the mythology and ritual connected with the sacrificed Rex Nemorensis, and whatever else survives in peasant folk-lore of spring and harvest. [4]

After these apologies for the limitations of this essay, we may survey the backward track. We began by showing that savages may stumble, and have stumbled, on theories not inconsistent with science, but not till recently discovered by science. The electric origin of the Aurora Borealis (whether absolutely certain or not) was an example; another was the efficacy of ’suggestion,’ especially for curative purposes. It was, therefore, hinted that, if savages blundered (if you please) into a belief in God and the Soul, however obscurely envisaged, these beliefs were not therefore necessarily and essentially false. We then stated our purpose of examining the alleged supernormal phenomena, savage or civilised, which, on Mr. Tylor’s hypothesis, help to originate the conception of ’spirits.’ We defended the nature of our evidence, as before anthropologists, by showing that, for the savage belief in the supernormal phenomena, we have exactly the kind of evidence on which all anthropological science reposes. The relative weakness of that evidence, our need of more and better evidence, we would be the very last to deny, indeed it is part of our case. Our existing evidence will hardly support any theory of religion. Anyone who is in doubt on that head has only to read M. Réville’s ’Les Religions des Peuples Non-Civilisés,’ under the heads ’Mélanésiens,’ ’Mincopies,’ ’Les Australiens’ (ii. 116-143), when he will observe that this eminent French authority is ignorant of the facts about these races here produced. In 1883 they had not come within his ken. Such minute and careful inquiries by men closely intimate with the peoples concerned, as Dr. Codrington’s, Mr. Hewitt’s, Mr. Man’s, and the authorities compiled by Mr. Brough Smyth, were unfamiliar to M. Réville, Thus, in turn, new facts, or facts unknown to us, may upset my theory. This peril is of the essence of scientific theorising on the history of religion.

Having thus justified our evidence for the savage belief in supernormal phenomena, as before anthropologists, we turned to a court of psychologists in defence of our evidence for the fact of exactly the same supernormal phenomena in civilised experience. We pointed out that for subjective psychological experiences, say of telepathy, we had precisely the same evidence as all non-experimental psychology must and does rest upon. Nay, we have even experimental evidence, in experiments in thought-transference. We have chiefly, however, statements of subjective experience. For the coincidence of such experience with unknown events we have such evidence as, in practical life, is admitted by courts of law.

Experimental psychology, of course, relies on experiments conducted under the eyes of the expert, for example, by hypnotism or otherwise, under Dr. Hack Tuke, Professor James, M. Richet, M. Janet. The evidence is the conduct rather than the statements of the subject. There is also physiological experiment, by vivisection (I regret to say) and post-mortem dissection. But non-experimental psychology reposes on the self-examination of the student, and on the statements of psychological experiences made to him by persons whom he thinks he can trust. The psychologist, however, if he be, as Mr. Galton says, ’unimaginative in the strict but unusual sense of that ambiguous word,’ needs Mr. Galton’s ’word of warning.’ He is asked ’to resist a too frequent tendency to assume that the minds of every other sane and healthy person must be like his own. The psychologist should inquire into the minds of others as he should into those of animals of different races, and be prepared to find much to which his own experience can afford little if any clue.’ [5] Mr. Galton had to warn the unimaginative psychologist in this way, because he was about to unfold his discovery of the faculty which presents numbers to some minds as visualised coloured numerals, ’so vivid as to be undistinguishable from reality, except by the aid of accidental circumstances.’

Mr. Galton also found in his inquiries that occasional hallucinations of the sane are much more prevalent than he had supposed, or than science had ever taken into account. All this was entirely new to psychologists, many of whom still (at least many popular psychologists of the press) appear to be unacquainted with the circumstances. One of them informed me, quite gravely, that ’he never had an hallucination,’ therefore—his mind being sane and healthy—the inference seemed to be that no sane and healthy mind was ever hallucinated. Mr. Galton has replied to that argument! His reply covers, logically, the whole field of psychological faculties little regarded, for example, by Mr. Sully, who is not exactly an imaginative psychologist.

It covers the whole field of automatism (as in automatic writing) perhaps of the divining rod, certainly of crystal visions and of occasional hallucinations, as Mr. Galton, in this last case, expressly declares. Psychologists at least need not be told that such faculties cannot, any more than other human faculties, be always evoked for study and experiment. Our evidence for these faculties and experiences, then, is usually of the class on which the psychologist relies. But, when the psychologist, following Leibnitz, Sir William Hamilton, and Kant, discusses the Subconscious (for example, knowledge, often complex and abundant, unconsciously acquired) we demonstrated by examples that the psychologist will contentedly repose on evidence which is not evidence at all. He will swallow an undated, unlocalised legend of Coleridge, reaching Coleridge on the testimony of rumour, and told at least twenty years after the unverified occurrences. Nay, the psychologist will never dream of procuring contemporary evidence for such a monstrous statement as that an ignorant German wench unconsciously acquired and afterwards subconsciously reproduced huge cantles of dead languages, by virtue of having casually heard a former master recite or read aloud from Hebrew and Greek books. This legend do psychologists accept on no evidence at all, because it illustrates a theory which is, doubtless, a very good theory, though, in this case, carried to an extent ’imagination boggles at.’

Here the psychologist may reply that much less evidence will content him for a fact to which he possesses, at least, analogies in accredited experience, than for a fact (say telepathic crystal-gazing) to which he knows, in experience, nothing analogous. Thus, for the mythical German handmaid, he has the analogy of languages learned in childhood, or passages got up by rote, being forgotten and brought back to ordinary conscious memory, or delirious memory, during an illness, or shortly before death. Strong in these analogies, the psychologist will venture to accept a case of language not learned, but reproduced in delirious memory, on no evidence at all. But, not possessing analogies for telepathic crystal-gazing, he will probably decline to examine ours.

I would first draw his attention to the difference between revived memory of a language once known (Breton and Welsh in known examples), or learned by rote (as Greek, in an anecdote of Goethe’s), and verbal reproduction of a language not known or learned by rote but overheard—each passage probably but once—as somebody recited fragments. In this instance (that of the mythical maid) ’the difficulty ... is that the original impressions had not the strength—that is, the distinctness—of the reproduction. An unknown language overheard is a mere sound....’ [6]

The distinction here drawn is so great and obvious that for proof of the German girl’s case we need better evidence than Coleridge’s rumour of a rumour, cited, as it is, by Hamilton, Maudsley, Carpenter, Du Prel, and the common run of manuals.

Not that I deny, a priori, the possibility of Coleridge’s story. As Mr. Huxley says, ’strictly speaking, I am unaware of anything that has a right to the title of an "impossibility," except a contradiction in terms.’ [7] To the horror of some of his admirers, Mr. Huxley would not call the existence of demons and demoniacal possession ’impossible.’ [8] Mr. Huxley was no blind follower of Hume. I, too, do not call Coleridge’s tale ’impossible,’ but, unlike the psychologists, I refuse to accept it on ’Bardolph’s security.’ And I contrast their conduct, in swallowing Coleridge’s legend, with their refusal (if they do refuse) to accept the evidence for the automatic writing of not-consciously-known languages (as of eleventh-century French poetry and prose by Mr. Schiller), or their refusal (if they do refuse) to look at the evidence for telepathic crystal-gazing, or any other supernormal exhibitions of faculty, attested by living and honourable persons.

I wish I saw a way for orthodox unimaginative psychology out of its dilemma.

After offering to anthropologists and psychologists these considerations, which I purposely reiterate, we examined historically the relations of science to ’the marvellous,’ showing for example how Hume, following his a priori theory of the impossible, would have declined to investigate, because they were ’miraculous,’ certain occurrences which, to Charcot, were ordinary incidents in medical experience.

We next took up and criticised the anthropological theory of religion as expounded by Mr. Tylor. We then collected from his work a series of alleged supernormal phenomena in savage belief, all making for the foundation of animistic religion. Through several chapters we pursued the study of these phenomena, choosing savage instances, and setting beside them civilised testimony to facts of experience. Our conclusion was that such civilised experiences, if they occurred, as they are universally said to do, among savages, would help to originate, and would very strongly support the savage doctrine of souls, the base of religion in the theory of English anthropologists. But apart from the savage doctrine of ’spirits’ (whether they exist or not), the evidence points to the existence of human faculties not allowed for in the current systems of materialism.

We next turned from the subject of supernormal experiences to the admitted facts about early religion. Granting the belief in souls and ghosts and spirits, however attained, how was the idea of a Supreme Being to be evolved out of that belief? We showed that, taking the creed as found in the lowest races, the processes put forward by anthropologists could not account for its evolution. The facts would not fit into, but contradicted, the anthropological theory. The necessary social conditions postulated were not found in places where the belief is found. Nay, the necessary social conditions for the evolution even of ancestor-worship were confessedly not found where the supposed ultimate result of ancestor-worship, the belief in a Supreme Being, flourished abundantly.

Again, the belief in a Supreme Being, ex hypothesi the latest in evolution, therefore the most potent, was often shelved and half forgotten, or neglected, or ridiculed, where the belief in Animism (ex hypothesi the earlier) was in full vigour. We demonstrated by facts that Anthropology had simplified her task by ignoring that essential feature, the prevalent alliance of ethics with religion, in the creed of the lowest and least developed races. Here, happily, we have not only the evidence of an earnest animist, Mr. Im Thurn, on our side, but that of a distinguished Semitic scholar, the late Mr. Robertson Smith. ’We see that even in its rudest forms Religion was a moral force, the powers that man reveres were on the side of social order and moral law; and the fear of the gods was a motive to enforce the laws of society, which were also the laws of morality.’ [9] Wellhausen has already been cited to the same effect.

However, the facts proving that truth, and unselfishness, surely a large element of Christian ethics, are divinely sanctioned in savage religion are more potent than the most learned opinion on that side.

Our next step was to examine in detail several religions of the most remote and backward races, of races least contaminated with Christian or Islamite teaching. Our evidence, when possible, was derived from ancient and secret tribal mysteries, and sacred native hymns. We found a relatively Supreme Being, a Maker, sanctioning morality, and unpropitiated by sacrifice, among peoples who go in dread of ghosts and wizards, but do not always worship ancestors. We showed that the anthropological theory of the evolution of God out of ghosts in no way explains the facts in the savage conception of a Supreme Being. We then argued that the notion of ’spirit,’ derived from ghost-belief, was not logically needed for the conception of a Supreme Being in its earliest form, was detrimental to the conception, and, by much evidence, was denied to be part of the conception. The Supreme Being, thus regarded, may be (though he cannot historically be shown to be) prior to the first notion of ghost and separable souls.

We then traced the idea of such a Supreme Being through the creeds of races rising in the scale of material culture, demonstrating that he was thrust aside by the competition of ravenous but serviceable ghosts, ghost-gods, and shades of kingly ancestors, with their magic and their bloody rites. These rites and the animistic conception behind them were next, in rare cases, reflected or refracted back on the Supreme Eternal. Aristocratic institutions fostered polytheism with the old Supreme Being obscured, or superseded, or enthroned as Emperor-God, or King-God. We saw how, and in what sense, the old degeneration theory could be defined and defended. We observed traces of degeneration in certain archaic aspects of the faith in Jehovah; and we proved that (given a tolerably pure low savage belief in a Supreme Being) that belief must degenerate, under social conditions, as civilisation advanced. Next, studying what we may call the restoration of Jehovah, under the great Prophets of Israel, we noted that they, and Israel generally, were strangely indifferent to that priceless aspect of Animism, the care for the future happiness, as conditioned by the conduct of the individual soul. That aspect had been neglected neither by the popular instinct nor the priestly and philosophic reflection of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Christianity, last, combined what was good in Animism, the care for the individual soul as an immortal spirit under eternal responsibilities, with the One righteous Eternal of prophetic Israel, and so ended the long, intricate, and mysterious theological education of humanity. Such is our theory, which does not, to us, appear to lack evidence, nor to be inconsistent (as the anthropological theory is apparently inconsistent) with the hypothesis of evolution.

All this, it must be emphatically insisted on, is propounded ’under all reserves.’ While these four stages, say (1) the Australian unpropitiated Moral Being, (2) the African neglected Being, still somewhat moral, (3) the relatively Supreme Being involved in human sacrifice, as in Polynesia, and (4) the Moral Being reinstated philosophically, as in Israel, do suggest steps in evolution, we desire to base no hard-and-fast system of ascending and descending degrees upon our present evidence. The real object is to show that facts may be regarded in this light, as well as in the light thrown by the anthropological theory, in the hands whether of Mr. Tylor, Mr. Spencer, M. RÈville, or Mr. Jevons, whose interesting work comes nearest to our provisional hypothesis.

We only ask for suspense of judgment, and for hesitation in accepting the dogmas of modern manual makers. An exception to them certainly appears to be Mr. Clodd, if we may safely attribute to him a review (signed C.) of Mr. Grant Allen’s ’Evolution of the Idea of God.’

’We fear that all our speculations will remain summaries of probabilities. No documents are extant to enlighten us; we have only mobile, complex and confused ideas, incarnate in eccentric, often contradictory theories. That this character attaches to such ideas should keep us on guard against framing theories whose symmetry is sometimes their condemnation’ (’Daily Chronicle,’ December 10, 1897).

Nothing excites my own suspicion of my provisional hypothesis more than its symmetry. It really seems to fit the facts, as they appear to me, too neatly. I would suggest, however, that ancient savage sacred hymns, and practices in the mysteries, are really rather of the nature of ’documents;’ more so, at least, than the casual observations of some travellers, or the gossip extracted from natives much in contact with Europeans.

Supposing that the arguments in this essay met with some acceptance, what effect would they have, if any, on our thoughts about religion? What is their practical tendency? The least dubious effect would be, I hope, to prevent us from accepting the anthropological theory of religion, or any other theory, as a foregone conclusion, I have tried to show how dim is our knowledge, how weak, often, is our evidence, and that, finding among the lowest savages all the elements of all religions already developed in different degrees, we cannot, historically, say that one is earlier than another. This point of priority we can never historically settle. If we met savages with ghosts and no gods, we could not be sure but that they once possessed a God, and forgot him. If we met savages with a God and no ghosts, we could not be historically certain that a higher had not obliterated a lower creed. For these reasons dogmatic decisions about the origin of religion seem unworthy of science. They will appear yet more futile to any student who goes so far with me as to doubt whether the highest gods of the lowest races could be developed, or can be shown to have been developed, by way of the ghost-theory. To him who reaches this point the whole animistic doctrine of ghosts as the one germ of religion will appear to be imperilled. The main practical result, then, will be hesitation about accepting the latest scientific opinion, even when backed by great names, and published in little primers.

On the hypothesis here offered to criticism there are two chief sources of Religion, (1) the belief, how attained we know not, [10] in a powerful, moral, eternal, omniscient Father and Judge of men; (2) the belief (probably developed out of experiences normal and supernormal) in somewhat of man which may survive the grave. This second belief is not, logically, needed as given material for the first, in its apparently earliest form. It may, for all we know, be the later of the two beliefs, chronologically. But this belief, too, was necessary to religion; first, as finally supplying a formula by which advancing intellects could conceive of the Mighty Being involved in the former creed; next, as elevating man’s conception of his own nature. By the second belief he becomes the child of the God in whom, perhaps, he already trusted, and in whom he has his being, a being not destined to perish with the death of the body. Man is thus not only the child but the heir of God, a ’nurseling of immortality,’ capable of entering into eternal life. On the moral influence of this belief it is superfluous to dwell.

From the most backward races historically known to us, to those of our own status, all have been more or less washed by the waters of this double stream of religion. The Hebrews, as far as our information goes, were chiefly influenced by the first belief, the faith in the Eternal, and had comparatively slight interest in whatever posthumous fortunes might await individual souls. Other civilised peoples, say the Greeks, extended the second, or animistic theory, into forms of beautiful fantasy, the material of art. Yet both in Greece and Rome, as we learn from the ’Republic’ (Books i. iii.) of Plato, and from the whole scope of the poem of Lucretius, and from the Painted Porch at Delphi, answering to the frescoes of the Pisan Campo Santo, there existed, among the people, what was unknown to the Hebrews, an extreme anxiety about the posthumous fortunes and possible punishment of the individual soul. A kind of pardoners and indulgence-sellers made a living out of that anxiety in Greece. For the Greek pardoners, who testify to an interest in the future happiness of the soul not found in Israel, Mr. Jevons may be cited:

’The agyrtes professed by means of his rites to purify men from the sins they had themselves committed ... and so to secure to those whom he purified an exemption from the evil lot in the next world which awaited those who were not initiated.’ ’A magic mirror’ (crystal-gazing) ’was among his properties.’ [11]

In Egypt a moral life did not suffice to secure immortal reward. There was also required knowledge of the spells that baffle the demons who, in Amenti, as in the Red Indian and Polynesian Hades, lie in wait for souls. That knowledge was contained in copies of the Book of the Dead—the gagne-pain of priests and scribes.

Early Israel, having, as far as we know, a singular lack of interest in the future of the soul, was born to give himself up to developing, undisturbed, the theistic conception, the belief in a righteous Eternal.

Polytheism everywhere—in Greece especially—held of the animistic conception, with its freakish, corruptible deities. Greek philosophy could hardly restore that Eternal for whom the Prophets battled in Israel; whom some of the lowest savages know and fear; whom the animistic theory or cult everywhere obscures with its crowd of hungry, cruel, interested, food-propitiated ghost-gods. In the religion of our Lord and the Apostles the two currents of faith in one righteous God and care for the individual soul were purified and combined. ’God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.’ Man also is a spirit, and, as such, is in the hands of a God not to be propitiated by man’s sacrifice or monk’s ritual. We know how this doctrine was again disturbed by the Animism, in effect, and by the sacrifice and ritual of the Mediaeval Church. Too eager ’to be all things to all men,’ the august and beneficent Mother of Christendom readmitted the earlier Animism in new forms of saint-worship, pilgrimage, and popular ceremonial—things apart from, but commonly supposed to be substitutes for, righteousness of life and the selflessness enjoined in savage mysteries. For the softness, no less than for the hardness of men’s hearts, these things were ordained: such as masses for the beloved dead.

Modern thought has deanthropomorphised what was left of anthropomorphic in religion, and, in the end, has left us for God, at most, ’a stream of tendency making for righteousness,’ or an energy unknown and unknowable—the ghost of a ghost. For the soul, by virtue of his belief in which man raised himself in his own esteem, and, more or less, in ethical standing, is left to us a negation or a wistful doubt.

To this part of modern scientific teaching the earlier position of this essay suggests a demurrer. By aid of the tradition of and belief in supernormal phenomena among the low races, by attested phenomena of the same kinds of experience among the higher races, I have ventured to try to suggest that ’we are not merely brain;’ that man has his part, we know not how, in we know not what—has faculties and vision scarcely conditioned by the limits of his normal purview. The evidence of all this deals with matters often trivial, like the electric sparks rubbed from the deer’s hide, which yet are cognate with an illimitable, essential potency of the universe. Not being able to explain away these facts, or, in this place, to offer what would necessarily be a premature theory of them, I regard them, though they seem shadowy, as grounds of hope, or, at least, as tokens that men need not yet despair. Not now for the first time have weak things of the earth been chosen to confound things strong. Nor have men of this opinion been always the weakest; not among the feeblest are Socrates, Pascal, Napoleon, Cromwell, Charles Gordon, St. Theresa, and Jeanne d’Arc.

I am perfectly aware that the ’superstitiousness’ of the earlier part of this essay must injure any effect which the argument of the latter part might possibly produce on critical opinion. Yet that argument in no way depends on what we think about the phenomena—normal, supernormal, or illusory—on which the theory of ghost, soul, or spirit may have been based. It exhibits religion as probably beginning in a kind of Theism, which is then superseded, in some degree, or even corrupted, by Animism in all its varieties. Finally, the exclusive Theism of Israel receives its complement in a purified Animism, and emerges as Christianity.

Quite apart, too, from any favourable conclusion which may, by some, be drawn from the phenomena, and quite apart from the more general opinion that all modern instances are compact of imposture, malobservation, mythopoeic memory, and superstitious bias, the systematic comparison of civilised and savage beliefs and alleged experiences of this kind cannot wisely be neglected by Anthropology. Humani nihil a se alienum putat.


[1Prim. Cult. ii. 352.

[2Abridged from Prim. Cult. ii. 119.

[3Histoire des Religions, ii. 237, note. M. Réville’s system, it will be observed, differs from mine in that he finds the first essays of religion in worship of aspects of nature (naturisme) and in ’animism properly so called,’ by which he understands the instinctive, perhaps not explicitly formulated, sense that all things whatever are animated and personal. I have not remarked this aspect of belief as much prevalent in the most backward races, and I do not try to look behind what we know historically about early religion. I so far agree with M. Réville as to think the belief in ghosts and spirits (Mr. Tylor’s ’Animism’) not necessarily postulated in the original indeterminate conception of the Supreme Being, or generally, in ’Original Gods.’ But M. Réville says, ’L’objet de la religion humaine est nÈcessairement un esprit’ (Prolégomènes, 107). This does not seem consistent with his own theory.

[4Compare Mr. Frazer’s Golden Bough with Mr. Grant Allen’s Evolution of the Idea of God.

[5J.A.I. x. 85.

[6Massey. Note to Du Prel. Philosophy of mysticism, ii 10.

[7Science and Christian Tradition, p. 197

[8Op. cit. p. 195.

[9Religion of the Semites, p. 53.

[10The hypothesis of St. Paul seems not the most unsatisfactory, Rom. i. 19.

[11Introd. to Hist. of Rel. p. 333; Aristoph. Frogs, 159.

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