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old it is, chronologically, who would venture to ask or to tell ? All that the Historical School ventures to assert is that it explains one side of the origin of religion, namely, the gradual process of naming or conceiving the Infinite. While the Theoretic School takes the predicate of God, when applied to a fetish, as requiring no explanation, the Historical School sees in it the problem of all problems, the result of a long-continued evolution of thought, beginning with the vague consciousness of something invisible, unknown, and unlimited, which gradually assumes a more and more definite shape through similes, names, myths, and legends, till at last it is divested again of all names, and lives within us as the invisible, inconceivable, unnameable—the infinite God.
Even if it should be possible to discover traces of fetishism in really ancient documents, in Egyptian and Babylonian inscriptions, in Chinese legends, or in Vedic hymns, an accurate student of the historical growth of religious ideas would always ask for its antecedents. Fetishism, from its very nature, cannot be primitive, because it always presupposes the previous growth of the divine predicate. As to the fetishism of modern negroes, we know now that it represents the very lowest stage which religion can reach, whether in Africa or any other part of the world, and I know of no case, even among the most degraded of Negro tribes, where remnants of a higher religious belief have not been discovered by the side of this degraded belief in amulets, talismans, and fetishes. The idea of De Brosses and his followers, that fetishism could reveal to us the very primordia of religious thought, will remain for ever one of the strangest cases of self-delusion, and one of the boldest anachronisms committed by students of the history of religion.
I need hardly say that though in the science of religion as in the science of language, all my sympathies are with the Historical School, I do not mean to deny that the Theoretical School has likewise done some good work. The very opposition roused by such men as Schelling and Hegel has been of immense assistance. Let both schools work on, carefully and honestly, and who knows but that their ways, which seem so divergent at present, may meet in the end.
HISTORICAL TREATMENT OF RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS.
Is Religion Possible ? IT has often been said, What can be the good of 1 an historical study of religious questions? We do not want to know what Manu, or Buddha, or Socrates, or Christ thought about the questions which trouble us. We want to know whether any living man can give us an answer that will satisfy the requirements of our own age, or prescribe a remedy which will cure the complaints of our own society. The burning question of the day is not what religion has been, or how it came to be what it is. The real question is the possibility of any religion at all, whether natural or supernatural; and if that question has once been answered in the negative, as it has been by some of the most popular philosophers of our century, why not let the dead bury the dead ?
The fact that, as far as history can reach, no single human being has ever, from his childhood to his old age, been without something that may be called religion, would carry very little weight. The limitation, as far as history can reach,' would at once be construed into a confession of our ignorance, so long as there remained a single nook or corner on earth that had not been explored by anthro
pologists. In other cases, again, where the existence of a religion cannot be denied, the religion of the child would be explained as an hereditary taint, that of the old man as mere dotage or second childhood. The fact again that, so long as we know anything of the different races of mankind, we find them always in possession of something that may be called religion,-a fact which may now be readily granted,—and that out of the sum total of human beings now living on this earth (that number varies from 1400 to 1500 millions 1-if you can realise such a sum or even such a difference) those who are ignorant and those who deny the existence of any supernatural beings form a mere vanishing quantity, would make no impression whatever on those who consider that the very word supernatural has no right to exist and should be expunged in our dictionary.
I do not wish to prejudge any of these questions ; and in choosing for my own task a careful study of the historical development of religious thought among the principal nations of the world, I claim for it at first no more than that it may serve at least as a useful preparation for a final solution of the difficult problems which the great philosophers of our age have placed before us. It would be strange indeed if in religion alone we could learn nothing from those who have come before us, or even from those who differ from us. My own experience has been, on the contrary, that nothing helps us so much to understand and to value our own religion as a study of the religions of other nations, and that nothing enables us better to deal with the burning questions of to-day than a knowledge of the difficulties inherent in all religions. These questions which are placed before us as the burning questions of the day, have been burning for centuries. Under slightly varying aspects they belong to the oldest questions of the world, and they occupy a very prominent place in every history of religion. If there is continuity anywhere, it is to be found in the growth of religious opinions.
1 M. M. Selected Essays, ii. 228 ; Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte von Chantepie de la Saussaye, p. 41.
History and Theory inseparable. Even our modern philosophers and theologians are what they are, and think what they think, because they stand on the historical accumulation of the religious thoughts and religious theories of former ages; and the religious thoughts and religious theories of former ages were in their time of exactly the same kind as the thoughts of our present philosophers. And not till our young philosophers have learnt that lesson, not till they will consent to serve a humble apprenticeship under the guidance of those who came before them, is there any hope of a healthy development in our modern philosophy. If there is evolution everywhere, is there to be no evolution in philosophy alone ?
Agnosticism. Let us examine a few of the more important of our so-called burning questions of the day, in order to see what kind of help we may expect to derive from history in trying to answer them. We are told that Agnosticism is an invention of our own age, and that,