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Solon or Dracon or the Twelve Tablets. And in the same way, unless there had been a natural growth of religion, whether in the form of oracles delivered or prayers uttered by prophets and accepted by the people at large, there could have been no sacred codes, such as the codes of Moses, or Zoroaster, or Buddha ; there could have been no such religions as the bookreligions, or, as they are called in most cases, the revealed religions of the world.
History, however, teaches us another lesson, namely that codes of law are apt to become a kind of fetish, requiring an implicit and unquestioning submission, that their historical or natural origin is often completely forgotten, and that the old ideas of what is right and just are almost absorbed, nay, almost annihilated, in the one idea of what is written and legal.
The study of Eastern religions teaches us the same lesson. Sacred books often become a kind of fetish, requiring an implicit and unquestioning faith; their historical or natural origin is often completely forgotten, and the old ideas of what is true and divine are almost absorbed in the one idea of what is written and orthodox.
And there is a third lesson which history teaches us. The sense of responsibility of every citizen for the law under which he lives is in great danger of becoming deadened, when law becomes a profession and is administered with mechanical exactness rather than with a strong human perception of what is right and what is wrong. Nor can it be denied that the responsibility of every believer for the religion under which he lives is in the same danger of becoming deadened, when religion becomes a profession, and is
administered with ceremonial exactness rather than with a strong human perception of what is true and what is false.
My object, however, is not to show the dangers which arise from sacred books, but rather to protest against the prejudice which prevails so widely against religions which have no sacred books.
There is a great difference between book-religions and bookless religions, and the difference offers, from an historical point of view, a very true ground of division. But because the book-religions have certain advantages, we must not imagine that the bookless religions are mere outcasts. They have their disadvantages, no doubt; but they have a few advantages also.
A Blackfoot Indian, when arguing with a Christian missionary, described the difference between his own religion and that of the white man in the following words 1: There were two religions given by the Great Spirit, one in a book for the guidance of the white men who, by following its teachings, will reach the white man's heaven; the other is in the heads of the Indians, in the sky, rocks, rivers, and mountains. And the red men who listen to God in nature will hear his voice, and find at last the heaven beyond.'
Now that religion which is in the head and in the heart, and in the sky, the rocks, the rivers and the mountains is what we call Natural Religion. It has its roots in nature, in human nature, and in that external nature which to us is at the same time the veil and the revelation of the Divine. It is free, it grows with the growth of the human mind, and adapts itself
· The Indians, whence came they? by McLean, 1889, p. 301.
to the requirements of every age. It does not say, • Thou shalt,' but rather I will.' These natural or bookless religions are not entirely without settled doctrines and established customs. They generally have some kind of priesthood to exercise authority in matters of faith, morality, and ceremonial. But there is nothing hard and unchangeable in them, nothing to fetter permanently the growth of thought. Errors, when discovered, can be surrendered ; a new truth, if clearly seen and vigorously defended, can be accepted. If, however, there is once a book, something black on white, the temptation is great, is almost irresistible, to invest it with a more than human authority in order to appeal to it as infallible, and as beyond the reach of human reasoning. We can well understand what the ancient poets of the Veda meant by calling their hymns God-given, or by speaking of them as what they had seen or heard, not what they had elaborated themselves. But a new generation gave a new meaning to these expressions, and ended by representing every thought and word and letter of the Veda as 'God-given,' or revealed. This was the death-blow given to the Vedic religion, for whatever cannot grow and change must diel. From this danger the bookless religions are exempt.
Another advantage peculiar to these religions is 1 Sir William Muir, in his Rise and Decline of Islam, pp. 40, 41, has given powerful expression to the dangers arising from sacred codes.
From the stiff and rigid shroud in which it is thus swathed, the religion of Mahomed cannot emerge. It has no plastic power beyond that exercised in its earliest days. Hardened now and inelastic, it can neither adapt itself, nor yet shape its votaries, nor even suffer them to shape themselves, to the varying circumstances, the wants and developments of mankind.' Quoted by E. de Bunsen in an article in the Asiatic Quarterly Review, April, 1889, Mahomed's Place in the Church, p. 287.
that generally they are extremely simple, not burdened with 325 volumes, weighing from four to five pounds each. When they are at their best, they seem to be simply an unhesitating belief in some higher power and a life in the sight of God.
It is painful to see how unfairly these simple bookless religions are often judged. Over and over again we are told by missionaries and travellers that they do not deserve to be called religions at all, and, on the strength of such assertions, philosophers, who ought to know better, have represented a large number of races as without any religion, as believing neither in the true God nor even in any false gods. - The blubber-eating Eskimos have sometimes been represented as altogether godless or as devil-worshippers. Mr. John Rae, who lived among them for some time, wrote to me (12 March, 1870): The Esquimaux believe their Great Spirit is too good and beneficent to punish them, even if they do what is wrong, but that in that case the evil spirit is permitted to have power over them. Consequently, while they pray to the former, they make offerings to the latter.'
Ever since the Jesuit Baegert published his interesting account of California in 1718, the inhabitants of that peninsula have been set down as without any religion at all. Baegert says, they have no idols, no religious service, no temple, no ceremonies. They neither adore the true God, nor do they believe in false gods. There is no word in their language corresponding to the Spanish Dios or signifying a higher being.
Later accounts have considerably modified these. statements, and have shown that there is no longer any excuse for treating the Californians as savages without religion. Nay, the latest accounts describe their religion in such terms that we might indeed envy them their religion, at all events for its simplicity. According to de Mofras, one of the latest travellers, the Californians believe in a God whose origin is perfectly unknown, or, as they express it, who has neither father or mother. He is believed to be present everywhere, and to see everything, even at midnight, though himself invisible to every eye. He is the friend of all good people, and punishes evil-doers 1.'
Do you call this a bad religion ? Could not a man with such a religion walk through life with a straight and steady step, if only he believes what he professes to believe, and shapes his way accordingly ?
Anything that lifts a man above the realities of this material life is religion. I like to tell the story of the old Samoyede woman whom Castrén met in his travels, and asked about her religion. Poor soul, she hardly understood what he meant and why he should ask her such a question. But when at last she perceived what he was driving at, she said 2: 'Every morning I step out of my tent and bow before the sun, and say: “When thou risest, I, too, rise from my bed.” And every evening I say: “When thou sinkest down, I, too, sink down to rest."' That was her prayer, perhaps the whole of her religious service,-a poor prayer, it may seem to us, but not
"Roskoff, Das Religionsuesen der rohesten Naturvölker, p. 64.