« PreviousContinue »
COMPARATIVE STUDY OF RELIGIOUS PROBLEMS.
The Problem of Creation. W HEN we study the same problem, first in the
heated controversies of our own time, and then look at it from a more elevated position which allows us to watch its historical progress, in all its varying aspects, it seems often difficult to believe that the problem is really the same. And yet, if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that there is continuity in the growth of thought as in the growth of language.
Let us look at the problem of creation. The question which the Vedic poet asked (X. 31, 7) when he said, • What was the forest, what was the tree from which they hewed heaven and earth,' is in reality the same question which we ask to-day, and which has received ever so many answers from century to century, and will receive as many more, so long as heaven and earth remain. It is true these early questioners would hardly understand our language, if we tried to put them off with the nebular theories of Kant and Laplace, with Lyall's explanation of the formation of the crust of the earth, or with Huxley's account of the transition of inorganic into organic protoplasm. But what they were in search of was after all the same, and what they called wood, out of which heaven and earth were hewn, was but another name for ún, wood, materies, wood, then material and matter, something behind or antecedent to the phenomenal world, as it appears before our eyes.
The Logic of Facts. It is sometimes quite startling, after we have tried to unravel the subtle webs of philosophy, such as the so-called Cosmological, Ontological, and Teleological proofs of the existence of a supreme deity, to have to face the question, what the earliest searchers after God would have said to these arguments. They would hardly have comprehended the language in which they present themselves now, and if we tried ourselves to translate them, for instance, into Vedic Sanskrit, we should completely fail. And yet we are the descendants of those Vedic poets, their language is essentially our language, their thoughts are essentially our thoughts, the world we live in is much the same as their Aryan home, and whatever discoveries have been made in other branches of knowledge, no new facts have been discovered since their time to help us to solve that old and yet always new question, whether there is an author of the Universe, whether there is a Creator and a God.
That the three famous arguments, the Cosmological, the Ontological, and the Teleological, have collapsed before the tribunal of formal logic, may be admitted. But it has been truly said that as an analysis of the unconscious or implicit logic of religion, as tracing
I Caird, Philosophy of Religion, p. 133.
the steps of the process by which the human spirit rises to the knowledge of God, and finds therein the fulfilment of its own highest nature, these proofs possess great value.' We must not imagine that belief in God is founded on a subtle syllogism. Besides the logic of the philosopher, there is a logic of facts, or a logic of history, and where can we find these facts, and where can we find the steps of that process by which the human mind rose gradually and irresistibly to the knowledge of God, if not in the history of religions ?
Cosmological Argument. The cosmological argument, or the argument a contingentiâ mundi, may be summed up in the language of the nineteenth century in the following words : “The human mind 1 rises from the perception of the transitory, contingent, finite character of the world to the notion of an absolutely necessary or infinite Being..
It is clear that language like this would be as much beyond the comprehension of an Aryan savage as it is beyond the comprehension of a child in the nursery, and, as a matter of fact, even of the majority of mankind, at the present day.
Aryan Savages. But we must reckon in all these questions with those very Aryan savages. They began the work which we are continuing, and there has been no break between them and ourselves, for the chain of language, that is, of thought, is perfect in all its links from Sanskrit to English. From the very annals of
· Caird, l. C. p. 153.
language it has been possible to put together some kind of picture of the earliest period of Aryan life. And even in that earliest period we find names for a Heaven-father, for bright and heavenly beings, nay, even, if you remember, for faith.
But for that very reason this period of Aryan language and thought has been rejected as quite modern, and a very different picture of the true Aryan savage has been painted for us by Professor Huxley. In his 'Struggle for Existence: a Programme,' he tells
of man, the animal, no more moral end is discernible than in that presented by the lives of the wolf and of the deer. However imperfect the relics of prehistoric man may be, the evidence which they afford clearly tends to the conclusion that for thousands and thousands of years, before the origin of the oldest known civilisations, men were savages of a very low type. They strove with their enemies and their competitors ; they preyed upon things weaker or less cunning than themselves ; they were born, multiplied without stint, and died, for thousands of generations, alongside the mammoth, the urus, the lion, and the hyena, whose lives were spent in the same way; and they were no more to be praised or blamed, on moral grounds, than their less erect and more hairy compatriots. As among these, so among primitive men, the weakest and stupidest went to the wall, while the toughest and shrewdest, those who were best fitted to cope with their circumstances, but not the best in any other sense, survived. Life was a continual free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence. The human species, like others, plashed and floundered amid the general stream of evolution, keeping its head above water as it best might, and thinking neither of whence or whither.'
Though this graphic picture of the state of mankind thousands of generations ago rests chiefly on inductive imagination, I am quite willing to accept it. The greater the savagery, the dulness, the stupidity with which Homo sapiens began, the greater the marvel at what must have been from the first, though undeveloped, in him, and made him in the end what we find him to be in the men of light and leading of our own age. For whether he asked his Whence or Whither, while browsing as yet on the lichens of glacial fields with his less erect compatriots, the mammoth, the urus, the lion, and the hyena, or whether that question was first asked during a postglacial period, certain it is that he alone asked it, and that he alone tried to answer it in the end by what we call the cosmological argument.
Why? That very question may be illogical, and every attempt to answer it still more illogical. But why will people not see that the mere fact of such a question being asked, and being asked at a time when as yet there was no Bible, no creed, no dogma, is something that ought to make us reflect. Why did man alone among all his hairy compatriots ask that question Whence? Why was he surprised, when no one else was? Why was he not satisfied with the fulness of life and enjoyment like his fellow-creatures,