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RELIGION AS A FACTOR IN HUMAN EVO
BY EDWARD P. POWELL.
PART I. PRIMITIVE RELIGION.
A. Definitions of Religion.
Schleiermacher defines religion as dependence; Hegel as freedom; which appear to be but opposite, not opposing views. Comte pronounces it to be self-culture; Fichte regards it as knowledge. Kant considers it to be natural morality. Dr. Momerie looks upon it as devotion to goodness. Cicero derives it from relego "to be devoted," instead of religo, "to bind together." Arnold defines it to be consciousness of a power outside ourselves making for righteousness; and Max Müller believes it to be the perception of the infinite in a way to affect character. Dean Burgon tells us religion can only be "a complete supernatural revelation, not permitting of change or progress;" but Herbert Spencer's religion arises in a Causal Power of which "the, nature remains ever inconceivable, and to which no limits in time or space can be imagined." Abbott defines religion as "the life of God in the soul of man."
Primitive Religion Traced.
(1) Religion a Family Service.--It was my duty one year ago to trace all secular history back to its origin in the primitive family. It is now my pleasant duty to turn my attention to the evolution of he same family on the religious side. Secular evolution, leading on through towns and commonwealths to States, and to a Federal Union of independent States, has been a noble record; but by all odds the most magnificent half of human life has been the religious. I define religion to be an evolution of family affection; as the state is an evolution of family coöperation.
If you go to the mouth of the Mississippi you find substantially what you find at the source; only a vastly increased volume, increased power, increased uses, and generalizations hardly anticipated where the brooklet fed violets and filled the pitcher of a rural home; so religion has to-day no new element in it that can not be found in the earliest cult of the most primitive families. There were from the beginning three conditions that made religion requisite.
(2) Factors Conditioning Religion.-(a) First to impress the mind were the facts of life and death. Every myth indicates that no early race thought of beginnings and endings. The babe came to them from elsewhere; the dying only went elsewhere. Religion was the ligature of these two lives; the science of unity. What people thought about other lives was of course diverse; and it grew to be more diverse; but what we need to see is that they believed in a life beyond, and that it was associated with this life. They tenderly cared for the dead as still living. They fed them, consulted them, and had no doubt of their possible helpfulness or malevolence. Here at the outset lay the germ of the ideas of revelation, inspiration, and incarnation. It was a matter of course that the dead might reappear; and that they had their old passions and desires. So began the utterly natural creed. If you have wondered why the Hebrew Scriptures never speak of immortality you may be sure it is because those ancients never doubted it. It was not open to discussion, because religion without it would have been inconceivable.
(b) The second class of facts that bore upon the mind to initiate religious emotion was that of physical forces. Earthquakes, cyclones, thunder, floods, serpents, eruptions and disruptions were built into myths. So also were the benevolences of the sunbeam, starlight and the seasons. It is easy to accede to Mr. Spencer that the main cult was family love; but equally original in all probability was the adoration and the pacification of the mighty forces that surrounded and constituted man's home. The commingling of these two cults was easy. There was an early transference of heroes to the skies, where they were identified with
stars, winds and storms. The drift was both ways. Some religions became intensely naturalistic; others as intensely spiritualistic. Through all history these two tendencies have clashed, have borrowed, have hated; and out of the two when blended have evolved our richest faiths.
(c) Beyond his relation to other men and to things. there was, as there is, in the very selfhood of man, a sense or consciousness of a something or some above all. Tyler says, "A leading idea in the traditions of the world is really no more than of Somebody." The oldest tradition touched that conception which ever since has been expanding into that still ungrasped idea, the Infinite. In all cases this Infinite was psychical as well as physical. Only late abstractions have led to a notion of a dead universe and a God outside of Nature. So universal was this God-sense that some anthropologists conceive monotheism to have preceded polytheism. The human mind was, as it is to-day, in contact with mind as the body was in contact with matter; and it felt the contact. We must clearly see and stoutly emphasize this religious consciousness as a quality of human nature. Brinton says that the American aborigines everywhere had an abstract word for general spiritual force. Peruvians kissed the air; the Eskimo spoke of the Owner of the Air. The more carefully we study history the more important will appear this native human instinct. Lang insists that the early races felt Power to be universal; and also as consciously intelligent. Earliest men saw that the unity about them was of that kind which is the result of operations similar to their own; it was "the subordination of all things to a harmonious whole," in which unity men had a part.
(3) Religion a Function of the Psychical Universe. -The family relation is distinctively an inheritance of animal origin, and religious culture as well as ethics is integral with the family. Allowing, however, for certain roots of religion in all the diverse branchings and upward yearnings of nature below man, yet when man appears it is with a great leap in the way of religious feeling; having the Lord's prayer not far from his perception and the golden rule in his soul.
ligion thus appears to be more than a phenomenon of human beings; it is a function of the psychical universe. It is the religo, the bond, the tie of life and of all lives, of gods and men; of God and man. It is the expression of a moral and purposeful universe. Our definition thus widens out to include that of Mr. Abbott. Religion is the life of God in the soul of man; but as a historic factor it is the evolution of the human family in its relation to God.
(4) Earliest Religion a Cult, Not a Creed.-The earliest religion was almost purely a cult. It consisted in doing rather than in believing. "It was possible,' says Schurman, "that there should be heteropraxy in those days, but not heterodoxy." It is astounding to the student of ancient religions to find how largely also our own sacraments, such as eating with the gods and baptizing the new-born, are a survival of the age of cult. Yet while not formally expressed, the soul of all later creeds was implied. All thoughts of the next life and all obligations in this life found ready place in this vast science of the right relation of the living and the dead.
(5) Religion a Social Power. (a) Religion Economic. On the economic side religion was intensely fruitful of good. It not only held the family together, but it was the bond of growing communities. Strong as might be the hand of the state, as strong was the heart of the church. The earliest science, the primary arts, the dawnings of education, the professions of medicine and theology were due to the religious side of family life. Face to face with nature, the priest was also much of a poet, as in simpler races he is today. Yahwehism was one half sanitation. It forbade suicide; it regulated sexual affairs; it protected woman; it mollified the horrors of wars.
(b) Religion Coöperated with the State. -The capacity of religion to cooperate with the State is seen in the older civilizations of both continents. Many of the remains of American plastic art, sculpture and painting were designed for religious purposes. The great Pyramid of Cholula, the mounds of the West, the artificial hills of Yucatan, hallowed great political events. Their construction took men away from war
and the chase, encouraged agriculture, peace, and settled homes.
The common custom of pilgrimages to the shrines of heroes, brought peoples into commerce, and widened both knowledge and sentiment. National unity was fostered by common cult and common altars. The Jews never were a nation apart from their relation to sacred Jerusalem. Brinton tells us the sacred temple on the island of Cozumel in Yucatan was visited every year by such multitudes from all parts that roads paved with cut stones were constructed for their accommodation. In Peru such vast numbers repaired to the sacred temple for three hundred leagues that houses of free entertainment were built on all principal roads, and pilgrims were allowed safe passage through an enemy's country.
(c) Religious Morals Distinct from Secular.-To the state at the outset belonged certain duties; to religion also a distinct obligation. Unwritten creeds defined the latter; unwritten constitutions the former. This involved a distinction in morals; those that were secular and those that were religious. This distinction vitally affected all human progress, as it is a vital principle to-day. Beginning with our relations to ancestors, religion peculiarly enforced reverence and piety, care of the aged and honor for the gods. This widened as the cult widened, into love for the All Father, and for all men as his children. The tendency was already toward the principle to be enunciated by Jesus in the Parable of the Neighbor. Animism required filialism; this culminated in love. Naturism added the virtue of rightness as opposed to crooked dealing. Stealing, murder and other vices concerning family property and individual safety were secular affairs. Temperance, honesty, chastity, justice might be fostered by religion, but it was on secular grounds. They would exist without religion.
PART II. THE AGE OF THEONS AND PANTHEONS.
(a) Absorption and Elimination.-Very early in the evolution of religion began two remarkable processes, absorption and elimination. Absorption was a valuable economic principle of antiquity. The dead were