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AN INTRODUCTION

TO

THE HISTORY OF RELIGION

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTORY

The book now before the reader is not a History of Religion, but an Introduction to the History of Religion : its object is not to place a history of religion before the student, but to prepare him for the study of that history, to familiarise him with some of the elementary ideas and some of the commonest topics of the subject. Much which would fill a large part of a history of religion finds no place in this Introduction : thus, for instance, religions such as Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, which are the outcome of the teaching of their individual founders, are not included within the scope of this book. But these religions—which, on the analogy of“ positive ” law, i.e. law enacted by a sovereign, have been termed Positive religions—were all designed by their founders to supersede certain existing religions, which, not being enacted by the authority of any single founder, but being practised as a matter of custom and tradition, may be called customary religions. It is with these religions, their customs and institutions, that this Introduction deals.

Now, religious institutions are not the only institutions which an early people possesses : it has also social institutions, such as those which regulate marriage, the organisation of the family, the vengeance to be taken for the murder of a

metha

kinsman, the holding of property, the government of the community, etc. ; and the study of these social institutions forms one branch of the science of anthropology, But religious institutions also all have their social side : Vreligious worship is a public institution; the gods are the gods of the community as a whole, and all the members of the community are required by custom to unite in the performance of the rites and sacrifices with which it is the custom of that particular society to approach its gods. Thus, religious customs and institutions seem, on their social side, to require to be studied, like other social institutions, on the principles and methods of anthropology. Of late years they have been largely so studied; and in this book it is proposed to collect together the principal results of these recent investigations — an undertaking the more necessary because the studies in question are at present scattered and on single topics, and have not yet been focussed in such a way as to show what their total bearing on the history of religion is.

But the proposal thus to apply the methods of science and the principles of anthropology to the study of religion, meets in some quarters with not unnatural and certainly not unreasonable objections. We must therefore at the outset make a brief statement of the methods in question, and consider the objections that may be made to them. To begin with, anthropology employs the Comparative Method : the customs of some one uncivilised or semi-civilised people are compared with the customs of another people in the same stage of culture, and considerable resemblance is found to exist between them, just as the flint arrow-heads made by man bear always a striking likeness to each other, whether they come from Europe or from Mexico, and the rudest pottery from Greece cannot be distinguished from the pottery of the ancient Peruvians. These resemblances enable us to extend our knowledge considerably ; thus the way in which cave-men contrived to fasten their stone axe-heads to wooden handles becomes clear when they are placed side by side with the axes, having stone heads fastened on to wooden handles, which are used by some savages at the present day. The purpose for which a stone implement was used by primitive man may be very doubtful until it is compared with the use made by living savages of some similar implement. So, too, the purpose of some rite or custom practised by one people may be doubtful or unknown until it is compared with the same or a similar rite performed elsewhere under circumstances which clearly show its object. Again, the Comparative Method is used in anthropology in the same way as it is employed in deciphering fragmentary ancient inscriptions : in inscriptions of a similar kind similar formulæ recur, thus in decrees of the Athenian people the formula “resolved by the people” constantly recurs; so, if only a few letters of the formula can be traced in what is plainly a decree, we can restore the missing letters with confidence. In the same way, a custom consisting in the performance of a series of acts may be found amongst several peoples in its entirety, and may amongst another people only survive in a mutilated form, and then we can infer with confidence that the missing acts also once formed part of this now fragmentary custom.

It is clear, therefore, that the Comparative Method can only be properly employed where the things compared resemble each other. If, then, we apply the Comparative Method to religion, we seem to be committed to the assumption that all religions are alike—and that is a proposition to which no religious-minded person can be expected to assent, especially when some writers apparently take it as selfevident that all religion is fetishism or animism or what not. Now, it is clear that the application of the Comparative Method to religion does imply that religions resemble one another, otherwise it would be useless to compare them. But it is also equally clear that the use of the Comparative Method implies that religions differ from one another, otherwise it would be unnecessary to compare them. A bilingual inscription (of sufficient length) in both Etruscan and some known language would settle the problem of Etruscan: the resemblance in meaning would enable us to compare the two languages together; it is the differences which make it necessary to have some such means of comparison. Comparative anatomy would have no object if the structure of all animals were exactly alike. If there were no differences between languages, there would be no need of Comparative Philology. And so it is precisely because religions do differ that the Comparative Method can be applied to them; and the use of the method is a standing disproof of the idea that all religions are alike.

The Comparative Method, then, can only be used where there are differences in the things compared. Indeed, we may go further, and say that it is for the sake of ascertaining these differences that the method is brought into use. Thus it is not the recurring formulæ, the stereotyped official phrases, which are the interesting points in Athenian inscriptions, but their subject-matter in which they differ from each other and which is studied for the light it throws on the history of Athens. The various Indo-European languages both resemble and differ from one another; the resemblances are studied for the light which they throw on the differences, the differences are studied because in their explanation lies the key to the process by which the various languages all grew out of the common, original Aryan tongue. All growth consists in a series of changes, and the record of the successive differences is the history of the thing's growth. It was by a succession of changes in one direction that Italian was evolved out of Latin ; in another French, in another Spanish. The primitive custom which required vengeance to be taken for the murder of a kinsman appears in one form in the Corsican vendetta, in a more developed form in the Saxon demand for wer-geld, in a yet more developed form in the Athenian laws against murder, while in English law the prosecution has been taken entirely out of the hands of the kin. Now, the stages by which the final form of this or any other institution was reached in any given country may all be recorded in the annals of that country, but if some are missing the Comparative Method warrants us in inferring that they were the same as those by which the same institution reached its final form in other countries. Thus by the Comparative Method we are enabled to apply the theory of evolution to the study of social institutions, and amongst others to the study of religious customs, and institutions, on their social side.

Here again, however, we are met with serious objections : evolution is the development of higher forms of life and

Evolutia

Monalhusn= lughest form

thought out of lower, monotheism is the highest form of religion, and therefore, on the general principles of evolution, must have been the final form reached by a slow evolution from such lower stages as polytheism, fetishism, ancestorworship, etc. They, therefore, who believe in the Bible must consider the very notion of evolution as essentially inapplicable to religion. Monotheism, according to Genesis, was revealed to begin with, and therefore cannot have been reached by a process of development. The truth was given to man at the beginning, and therefore cannot be the outcome of evolution. Every step taken in religion by man since Adam, if it was not in the right line of monotheism, must have been away from the truth of revealed religion; the only evolution, the evolution of error. Man's imagination, when once it abandons the one guide, becomes the prey of all sorts of perversion, of the monstrous customs of heathendom, which it is useless to trace, as they lead only away from the truth, and are as irrational and as little to be heeded as the ravings of a mind distraught. Burré Cesarempli The validity of this reasoning all depends upon the tacit

culus assumption that evolution is the same thing as progress, 4 $49 whereas in point of fact evolution is universal, but progress is very rare—the civilised peoples of the earth are less numerous than the semi-civilised and uncivilised ; and of the civilised themselves the progressive peoples are a lle minority. Institutions not only grow but decay also, and nautin decay as well as growth is a process of evolution. Florid art is evolved out of something simpler, but is not therefore superior to it. The Roman Empire was evolved out of the Roman Republic, and was morally a degeneration from it. The polytheism of Virgil is not better, as religion, than that of Homer; the polytheism of late Brahminism is certainly worse than that of the earlier periods. Therefore, to say that the only evolution in religion-except that which is on the lines of the Bible—is an evolution of error, may be quite true and yet not show that the idea of evolution is inapplicable to heathen religions. Their evolution may well have been, from the religious point of view, one long process of degeneration. Progress is certainly as exceptional in religion as in other things, and where it takes place must be

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