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Feuerbach. Feuerbach was more decided still, and declared that the gods were nothing but the wishes of men, conceived as realised. But there are wishes and wishes, and even admitting that some of the ancient gods represented the very lowest wishes of men realised, there would be others also, representing the realisation of the highest ideals which the human mind can conceive.
Generally speaking, positivist philosophers have added little to an historical study of religion. They have told us, not so much what religion has been, as what, according to their view of the development of the human mind, it ought or it ought not to have been.
Gruppe. There is one exception, however. In a decidedly learned work, published in 1887, Die Griechischen Culte und Mythen, Professor Gruppe has put forward a view of religion which deserves the most careful consideration, and which I, at all events, cannot pass over in silence, considering that the greater part of his first volume, consisting of more than 700 pages, is directed against myself. His book is certainly instructive, and though I differ from Professor Gruppe on almost every point, I cannot but admire his learning, nor should I ever wish for a better and more valiant antagonist. Let us hear then the worst that can be said of religion.
Selfishness the source of Religion. According to Dr. Gruppe, who may well be taken as the most powerful representative of the extreme positive and, at the same time, negative school of philosophy, religion exists simply because it satisfies certain selfish instincts of man. It has no other raison d'étre. The rapid spreading of religion all over the world is likewise ascribed to a social instinct which is supposed to be gratified by certain advantages which all religions provide. Religions, we are told, do not only give pleasure, but they enable the individual members of a society to develop their faculties far better than the mere laws of family and state would allow. By an inner bond of thought and feeling which unites a religious community, the individual gains more power of resistance in the struggle of all against all. It is only because it answers these requirements of society that religion flourishes. It keeps the poor and miserable quiet by promising them pleasures in the world to come, and thus enables the rich and noble to enjoy their pleasures on earth in safety. It alone can strengthen law and morality in a state of society where there is no equality, and it would probably cease to exist altogether, if all inequalities on earth could be removed. Without accusing the founders of religion of selfish motives in the lowest sense, Professor Gruppe is nevertheless convinced that they were all unconscious egotists. They enjoyed the reverence shown them by the multitude to that extent that they did not shrink, as he thinks, even from a martyr's death. But generally, while professing to found a new kingdom of heaven, they succeeded in founding a kingdom of this world.
The three true causes of the wide and rapid spread of religion are therefore (1.c., p. 273), according to him
(1) the unconscious vanity of its founders,
(2) a belief in the happiness which it procures to its believers, and
(3) the substantial advantages which society derives from it.
This would really, so far as I can judge, leave the question of the origin of religion in the mind of its founders unsolved; but this, we are told, is of little consequence, for the mere fancy of any single individual would have answered the purpose. Besides, it is asserted (p. 276) that all historical religions presuppose older religions, and are reformations rather than original intellectual creations, while the first conception of religious thought required no more than a high degree of personal energy to induce people to believe what was irrational, and to do in their primitive sacrifices what was absurd. Here, again, however, the question why any single individual should have invented what was so utterly irrational, remains unanswered.
Professor Gruppe's formal definition of religion I must give in his own words :
We call religious belief a belief in a state or in a being which, properly speaking, lies outside the sphere of human striving and attainment, but can be brought into this sphere in a particular way, namely, by means of sacrificial ceremonies, prayers, penances and self-denial. It might seem possible that on the strength of such a belief an individual should simply for his own benefit invent means by which such a possibility could be realised. But in history the religious belief always meets us as a doctrine, professing to be able to produce the union with those beings, and the attainment of that state for a large number of men. Such a doctrine we call religion.'
His definition too narrow. You see that it would be difficult to take a lower view of religion. However, as I remarked before, everybody is at liberty to give his own dogmatic definition of religion. The only question is whether the definition given by Professor Gruppe, and eagerly adopted by those who claim the name of positivist philosophers, comprehends really all that in the history of the world has been comprehended under the name of religion. That there have been, and that possibly there are even now, human beings to whom religion is nothing but disguised selfishness, may be true; but that there have been, and that possibly there are even now, human beings willing and able to surrender their own will to a Divine Will, can hardly be doubted even by Professor Gruppe. His definition of religion is therefore at all events too narrow, and it might possibly be found to apply to religion, not in its original, but in its most depraved state; not as conceived by the founders of religion and by those who were found willing to become martyrs to their convictions, but as adopted by those who under the cloak of religion were bent on gratifying the lowest passions of human nature. On this point Professor Gruppe is not quite explicit, and we must wait for the appearance of his next volumes, before we can believe that the impression left on our mind by his first volume is really quite correct.
So far as he has gone at present, bis argument seems to be this, that religion is something so irra
tional, not to say, so absurd, that it could have been invented once and once only in the whole history of mankind. He denies altogether that religion is a general characteristic of man, and that there is any excuse for it either in human nature or in its surroundings. Once, or possibly twice only, he maintains, did such a paradox as religion enter into the heart of man. All similarities therefore which have been discovered between religions are ascribed by Professor Gruppe to an historical transmission, which began probably not much earlier than the seventh century B.C. We are not told as yet where and when this monstrous birth took place, but everything seems to point to Phoenicia, or possibly to India (1. c., p. 499). We are given to understand in several places that the Nile has borrowed from the Ganges, not the Ganges from the Nile (pp. 499, 502, 507). The greater antiquity of the Egyptian literature is questioned again and again, and in Babylon also no trustworthy dates are admitted before the seventh century (p. 345). That missionaries could have travelled to Greece, Italy, and Central Europe from the South is said to be proved by discoveries of articles dropped on their journeys by early commercial caravans. That Eastern Asia, China, and Japan could have been reached by early missionaries from India, is said to be proved by the success of Buddhist missionaries at a later time; and that from Eastern Asia the transit to America was not altogether impossible is now admitted, we are told, by the most competent authorities. Again, we are reminded that the Mohammedan religion found its way in later times from Eastern Asia to Australia, on one side, and to