« PreviousContinue »
RELIGION DIFFERENT FROM SCIENCE,
Religious Character. W E have not finished yet with mapping out the plan
w of our work, and with defining the exact limits of what really constitutes religion. We have seen that nature, with its mountains, rivers, and trees, with its sky, sun, moon, dawn, and wind, can supply food for religious thought. We have seen that a belief in mankind as an unbroken chain leading from our own father to the great-great-grandfather of all men and all things, may likewise become a most powerful religious influence; and I have tried to explain how the study of our own nature with its various capacities may lead and has led to a philosophical religion based on a perception of our true self and its relation to the Universal Self.
But it is clear that every one of these vast domains of thought must be pervaded by a very peculiar spirit before it can rise to the level of what we mean by religion.
Religion and Science. At the present time, for instance, we see that not only religion but science also deals with the infinite, or with much that lies beyond the horizon of our sensuous perception. All inquiries into the causes of natural phenomena transcend that horizon. When science traces back our perception of sound and colour to vibrations of what is called ether, it deals with the finite and the infinite. All the so-called forces of heat, electricity, magnetism lie beyond the finite, and by their very nature can never come within the purview of finite sensuous perception. If the sun and moon and the stars can rouse within the heart of man religious emotions, they can also become the subject of minute scientific observation and calculation in the mind of the astronomer.
In ancient times, however, science had hardly as yet separated from religion, and, historically speaking, science seems everywhere to have taken its origin from religion. The first attempts at lifting the veil of nature and fathoming the causes of things were religious. The first astronomical observatories in the world were the towers attached to the temples in Babylon1. When the question was asked for the first time, whence came the rain, the lightning, and the thunder, the answer was that rain came from the rainer, Zeùs ÚÉTlos, in Greece, from Jupiter Pluvius in Italy, from Indra or Parganya in India ; lightning from the lightner, Zeùs kepaúvios, TEPTLKépavyos, Jupiter fulgurator and fulminator ; and thunder from the thunderer, Zeùs ÚVeßpeuérns, Jupiter tonans.
At a later time, when these answers seemed no longer satisfactory, new answers were attempted, and science explained lightning as a discharge of electricity, thunder as a tension of the air, rain as the condensation of vapour. What had to be explained
1 Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 96, 156.
remained throughout the same; the difference arose from the new spirit of inquiry.
We must not forget, however, that even in our own scientific age prayers are still offered for rain, that is to say, that the religious view of nature has held its own, if not against, at least by the side of the scientific view. And this will help us to mark off the domain of religion from that of science. Both deal with that which lies behind or beyond our knowledge, but while science looks for causes of events, whatever these causes may be, religion is satisfied with admitting agents for actions, who assume different aspects according to the poetical genius of every race.
What imparts a Religious Character. But we must restrict the sphere of religion, so far as it is founded on perceptions of the infinite, still further. The mere admission that there in an agent behind the rain, the lightning, the thunder, behind night and day, behind sun and moon, is not yet religion. It may be called mythology throughout, but in some cases it is not even that. If we say the wind blows, we hardly speak mythologically, though, no doubt, a very small addition of poetical imagination may change the wind into an Aeolus, or, as in modern illustrated books, into an angel with wings, blowing a visible puff of air out of his mouth. That would be mythology, but not yet religion.
In order to avoid all confusion of thought, we must reserve the adjective religious for those perceptions of the unknown or the infinite which influence man's actions and his whole moral nature. The mere reasoning, for instance, which would lead a sailor to spread his sail so as to catch the wind blowing from the West, from the setting of the sun, would not yet constitute a religious act, even though the Westwind had been called Zephyrus 1, and become known as the son of Eos and Astraeos. We should have entered the domain of mythology, but not yet that of religion. But when in the Iliad (xxiii. 192) the funeral pile with the corpse of Patroklos on it, does not burn, and Achilles prays to the two winds, Boreas and Zephyros, and promises them beautiful offerings (iepà kadá) if they will come and kindle the flames, we shall then have to admit that we are at least on the threshold of religion, though as yet on the threshold only. For though sacrifices are generally considered as religious acts, they are sometimes mere customs which in the beginning had little or nothing of religion about them.
When, however, men begin to feel constrained to do what they do not like to do, or to abstain from what they would like to do, for the sake of some unknown powers which they have discovered behind the storm or the sky or the sun or the moon, then we are at last on religious ground.
Moral Influences of Physical Phenomena. It has often been considered very strange that a mere perception of the powers of nature should have influenced the acts of men, or that even a belief in personal agents, as manifested in such phenomena as the rising and setting of the sun, the changes of day and night, of the seasons and of the year, or again in
1 See M. M., • Zephyros und Gâhusha,' in Techmer's Internationale Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, 1 Band, 1 Heft, 1884.
storm and rain, in thunder and lightning, should have supplied motives for virtuous efforts.
I am far from maintaining that natural phenomena by themselves would have sufficed to call out moral sentiments, ideas of right and wrong in man. This is a subject that belongs to the student in ethics, and on which I do not at present mean to touch. Thus Dr. Martineau writes in his Study of Religion, i. 16: • The enquiries on which we are now entering have been preceded by a treatment of ethical theory (in his work, The Types of Ethical Theory, 1885), the results of which will here be assumed as known. This order of exposition undoubtedly implies that I do not regard moral rules as depending upon prior religious belief; and that I do regard the consciousness of duty as an originating condition of religion' Professor Flint also, in his works on Theism and Antitheistic Theories, regards ethics as quite independent of religion, though he admits the powerful influence which religion may exercise on morality. In his chapter on Secularism (p. 242) he goes so far as to say that morality which ignores religion is inherently weak because inherently self-contradictory. But when these sentiments had once been called forth, in however rudimentary a form, the contemplation of natural phenomena, whether in their unbroken order or in their violent disturbance, might well have reacted upon them and developed them in a new direction. It has often been said that fear made the gods, but it is equally true to say that the gods, even in their purely physical character, made men fear. When man had once learnt to fear the gods of the sky in their terrible aspect, and to admire
1 * Primus in orbe deos fecit timor,' Statius, Theb. iii, 661.