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beginning have been natural and spontaneous acts. We can easily trace back all prayers to the same feeling which would lead a child to ask for gifts from his father; and whoever understands the thoughts of a child in offering to his father a flower or a broken toy, whether from a feeling of gratitude or from a hope of further favours, will not look for any more remote motives prompting the offering of more or less valuable gifts to the gods, after such gods had once been conceived. Expiatory or purificatory offerings and sacrifices can be traced back to the same source, and have really nothing irrational in them, nothing that requires explanation, nothing with which we cannot fully sympathise ourselves.
But all these prayers and praises and offerings and purifications, even in their simplest form, always presuppose the belief in those superhuman or supernatural beings whom we have accustomed ourselves to call gods, and it would violate all rules of thought to place the sacrifice first, and the conception of a person to whom a sacrifice is offered, last.
Study of the Veda. It seems to me that the study of the Veda is chiefly responsible for this delusion, that religion begins with sacrifice. At first it was the fashion to represent the hymns of the Rig-veda as the most primitive utterances of religious thought, recalling a period when there was as yet no system of religion, no creeds, no priesthood, no sacrifice. I remember myself speaking of the Rig-veda as the true theogony of the Aryan race, and I do not mean in the least to retract that statement. But it is one thing to say that the Veda brings us as near to the theogonic process of the Aryan world as any literary document will ever bring us, and quite another to imagine that the Veda was composed by the first man who escaped from the glacial period, or by the first poet who could stammer forth human language. Why will people always imagine the impossible to be possible ? However, it was but natural that after expectations had been raised to the highest pitch, there should be a reaction. The Veda, as I have always said, in spite of its wonderful antiquity, is like an oak in which we can count ring after ring, testifying to an infinite succession of intellectual springs and winters. Not only are priests and sacrifices presupposed in many a hymn, but most elaborate sacrifices performed by ever so many distinct priests are mentioned, at all events in the more modern hymns. Because it was clear that some of the hymns had been composed in connection with these sacrifices, it has of late become the fashion to maintain that all had been, that in fact the whole Vedic poetry was the product of a priestly caste, requiring song and poetry for the enlivenment of their sacrifices.
It is quite true that the hymns collected in what are called the Yagur and Sâma-veda, have no other object than to be employed at sacrifices. But it is equally true that the collection of the Rig-veda had no such sacrificial purpose. And, what is far more important is what every scholar knows, namely that even many of the passages taken from the Rig-veda and embodied in the two other purely sacrificial Vedas, are so turned and twisted in order to make them useful for liturgical purposes that no one could suppose for a moment that they were first composed for
liturgical, and afterwards collected for hymnological purposes. This idea, however, that, because some hymns were meant from the first to accompany the sacrifices, all Vedic hymns were the production of Vedic priests; that, in fact, the Hindus first elaborated a most complete and complicated ceremonial, and then only set to work to invent the gods to whom their sacrifices should be offered and to compose hymns of praise to celebrate the greatness of these gods,—this idea, I say, has so completely taken possession of certain philosophers, that they now appeal to the Veda as the best proof that sacrifice must everywhere have come first, and hymns to the gods, nay, according to some, even belief in the gods, afterwards. Gods, we are told, are not gods till they are worshipped (Gruppe, 1. c., p. 81). If such theories can be proved by facts in any part of the globe, let it be so; but to quote the Veda in support of them, is impossible.
And what applies to sacrifices offered to the gods of nature, applies with equal force to the offerings presented to ancestral spirits. We have been told of late that sacrifices arose . really from carousals, and I do not deny that there is some truth in this, only that, as usual, it is spoiled by exaggeration. Nothing is more natural than that, after the death of a father, his place at dinner should be kept vacant, or that his share of food should actually be placed on the exact spot where he used to sit. That may seem childish, but it is perfectly human. Again, that a few drops of whatever served for drink at a meal should be poured on the ground in memory of the departed, is perfectly intelligible. But in that case, a belief in ancestral spirits was as necessary a
condition of such pious acts as a belief in gods is presupposed by sacrificial offerings.
What, however, quite staggers me, is the idea lately broached, that not only did all religion take its origin in these carousals?, but that the first idea of sacrifice arose from some person persuading the people that by lighting in the morning the fire on the altar, they could assist the sun in his daily or yearly fight against his enemies. Where could they have got a belief in the sun as a fighter and as having enemies? And how would it have been possible to convince them, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that the small rush-light on their hearth could invigorate the power of the sun ? It is perfectly true that such ideas appear in the Veda, but they appear there preceded by many antecedent ideas, which make them not only less grotesque, but render them almost intelligible. But to imagine that such thoughts could be primitive, and that they could help us to account psychologically for the evolution of religious and sacrificial ideas in the world at large, is certainly to my mind passing strange. Well may the author of such a theory say that so absurd a thing could have happened once only in the history of the world, and that therefore all religions of the civilised races of mankind came from the country in which this strange hallucination took possession of one weak-minded individual (p. 277).
Although, therefore, a definition of religion which should exclude sacrifices and priesthood would certainly be deficient, I hold that both the sacrificial and
1 •Der Cultusact war nicht etwa nur mit einem Gelage verbunden, sondern er war recht eigentlich ein Gelage.' Gruppe, p. 277.
priestly character of religion is sufficiently secured by our restricting the perception of the infinite to such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man. It is the moral character of man that shows itself in those acts of fear, reverence, gratitude, love, and contrition which we comprehend under the general name of sacrifice, and the delegation of these sacrificial acts to agents, better qualified or more worthy to perform them than the rest, may likewise be traced back to a sense of humility on the part of the people at large, or what we now call the laity.
If now we gather up the threads of our argument, and endeavour to give our own definition of religion, it would be this:
• Religion consists in the perception of the infinite under such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man.
I look upon this as a definition of religion in its origin, but if we once admit a continuity in the historical growth of religion, the same definition ought to remain applicable to all the later developments through which religion has passed. In order to remain applicable to all these later developments, our definition of religion must necessarily leave out whatever is peculiar to one or other of these later developments only; and it may happen therefore that what seem to some of us the most valuable characteristics of religion, are missing in our definition of it.
To those who maintain that religion is chiefly a modus cognoscendi Deum, a mode of knowing God, we should reply that there is no conceptual knowledge which is not based first of all on perceptual knowledge, and that Deus or God is not the only object of reli