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Christian theologians, existed, as we shall see, with a very slight alteration, among non-Christian as well as among Christian theologians. In most theological manuals we find religion defined as modus cognoscendi et colendi Deum,'a mode of knowing and worshipping
Though accepted by most theologians as unobjectionable, this definition has not escaped criticism. It is said 1 that a definition should trace whatever has to be defined back to one genus proximum, not to two; that if religion is a mode of knowing God, well and good; but that it cannot be at the same time a mode of worshipping God. This may be true in logic, but what can we do if, as a matter of fact, the same name has been given to our knowledge as well as to our worship of God ? In that case the definition of religio as modus cognoscendi et colendi Deum would at all events be historically correct. But that is not all. There are surely many concepts which have two sides, nay, which become complete only when we comprehend these two or more sides as sides of one and the same concept. We may define a triangle by its three angles as well as by its three sides. Our definition of logic becomes complete only if we define it both as a knowledge and as an art. Even while engaged in studying logic and gaining a knowledge of the laws of thought, we practise these very laws, while afterwards in practising the laws, we know also as logicians that we know them. It is the same in medicine, in law, and in most of what we call the applied sciences.
This is powerfully stated by Teichmüller in his Religionsphilosophie, 1886, p. 16,
Knowledge and practice, επιστήμη And τέχνη, are mostly inseparable.
And this really holds true in religion more than anywhere else. Is not religion as mere knowledge or faith said to be dead, being alone 1,' that is, being without works? And would not works, however perfect and useful, cease to be religions, if performed without a motive, without a knowledge of God ?
Feeling or Knowledge as motive of action. But we may even go a step further. All our acts are stimulated either by feeling or by knowledge, by percepts or by concepts. A feeling of pain makes us act in one way, a feeling of pleasure in another. A mere perception of distance makes the crow fly direct, that is by the shortest road, and induces a peasant to cross a field diagonally, instead of laterally. A knowledge of geometry produces the same action, only lined with intelligence. An engineer does what the crow does, only he does it, not simply by intuition, but because he knows that the hypothenuse of any triangle is, nay, must always be, shorter than the two other sides together. In this way every act of ours may be shown, I believe, to be under the influence of either feeling or knowledge, and thus the active side of religion also could easily be shown to be inseparable from, though of course not identical with, the theoretic side.
The logical fault, therefore, of tracing religion to two proxima genera instead of one, if fault it be, would have its historical justification in the fact that active religion, whether worship or morality, is, in its beginning at all events, inseparable from religious
1 Ep. James iii. 17.
knowledge, while in most cases religious knowledge would by its very nature lead to religious acts.
The object of religion must be defined. There is, however, a much more serious difficulty in this definition, and this may best be discovered, if we examine the same definition as we find it in a very similar wording in the writings of a heathen philosopher, namely Seneca. He defines religion as Cognoscere Deum et imitari', 'to know God and imitate him. Now let us remark that Seneca does not say, to know the gods and imitate them, but to know God and imitate him. We must indeed not lay too much stress on this, for it is well known how promiscuously philosophers of his age used deus either in the singular or the plural. Thus the same Seneca 2 says: 'I do not obey God, but I assent to him with all my heart; he worships the gods best who imitates them. Now, if Seneca had in his definition of religion spoken of an imitation of the gods, we should probably have detected at once the serious fault which his definition shares in common with that of our own theological manuals. We shall see that in defining religion, both definitions leave the most important part, namely, the object of religion, undefined. If Seneca had explained religion as a knowledge and imitation of Mars, Bacchus, or Venus, we should have said at once, But how do you know that there are such beings as Mars, Bacchus, or Venus ? What do you know about their character and their proceedings, and why do you advise us to imitate them? The flaw which in Seneca's definition of religion would thus have become palpable at once, can hardly escape notice in the Christian adaptation of it. If the object of religion, if what is to be known and to be worshipped, can thus be taken for granted and left undefined, by simply calling it God, we might with the same right explain physical science as a knowledge of nature, or moral science a knowledge of good and
1 Imitation of God had been prescribed by Pythagoras also; and with some restriction (as far as nature permits) by Plato.
2 Epist. i. 95, 96, Non pareo Deo, sed adsentior ex animo; satis coluit Deos quisquis eos imitatus est.'
what we understand by good and evil. Such definitions would be pure tautology. If we once know what we mean by god or gods, the definition of religion becomes easy enough. But the discovery and elaboration of the name and concept of gods and god, form really the most important and the most difficult chapter in the history of religion, and to take that fundamental element of religion as simply granted, is to overlook the most difficult part in a définition of religion.
It will be easily seen, however, that nearly all definitions of religion, and particularly those of modern philosophers, take the object of religion for granted, or explain it by terms which themselves stand in need of definition. Plato naturally does not like to speak of gods in the plural, but when he uses instead, the Divine, tò delov, he ought to have defined it. Of modern philosophers Schleiermacher used the Infinite, instead of God; Professor Pfleiderer speaks of the world-controlling Power; Dr. Martineau in his recent work on Religion of the Divine Mind and the Divine Will, or even of the Unknown; and the author of the Philosophy of Religion, your own honoured Principal, defines religion as a surrender of the finite will to the infinite will.
If we were all agreed on the meaning of these terms, the Divine, the Infinite, the Unknown, the world-controlling Power, the infinite Will, no formal objections could be taken to these definitions. But our antagonists will not allow us to take any of these terins for granted, or as requiring no definition.
If religion is knowledge, they say, does not all depend on what we know? If religion is belief, must we not ask, first of all, what it is that we are to believe, or how our mind got possession of the concept and name of divine beings that are to be believed ? Let religion be fear or love, worship or meditation, its essential character must always be determined by the object to which it looks. If we call that object God, does that tell us anything, so long as it is left uncertain what is meant by God, whether something visible or invisible, something comprehensible or incomprehensible, something that can be named or something that must for ever remain nameless ? How often in the religious battles of the world do we hear the combatants say, What you call God, I deny to be God. If you call me an atheist, I call you an idolator.
Fichte on Atheism. When Fichte was accused of atheism, what did he reply : 'Your God,' he said, 'is the giver of all enjoyment, the distributor of all happiness and of all unhappiness among human beings. That is his real character. But he who wants enjoyment is a sensual, carnal man, who has no religion, and is incapable of religion. The first truly religious sentiment kills all desire within us. A god who is to serve our desires,