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- The Making of Religion - 10/68 -



Among the various forms of science which are reaching and affecting the new popular tradition, we have reckoned Anthropology. Pleasantly enough, Anthropology has herself but recently emerged from that limbo of the unrecognised in which Psychical Research is pining. The British Association used to reject anthropological papers as 'vain dreams based on travellers' tales.' No doubt the British Association would reject a paper on clairvoyance as a vain dream based on old wives' fables, or on hysterical imposture. Undeniably the study of such themes is hampered by fable and fraud, just as anthropology has to be ceaselessly on its guard against 'travellers' tales,' against European misunderstandings of savage ideas, and against civilised notions and scientific theories unconsciously read into barbaric customs, rites, traditions, and usages. Man, _ondoyant et divers_, is the subject alike of anthropology and of psychical research. Man (especially savage man) cannot be secluded from disturbing influences, and watched, like the materials of a chemical experiment in a laboratory. Nor can man be caught in a 'primitive' state: his intellectual beginnings lie very far behind the stage of culture in which we find the lowest known races. Consequently the matter on which anthropology works is fluctuating; the evidence on which it rests needs the most sceptical criticism, and many of its conclusions, in the necessary absence of historical testimony as to times far behind the lowest known savages, must be hypothetical.

For these sound reasons official science long looked askance on Anthropology. Her followers were not regarded as genuine scholars, and, perhaps as a result of this contempt, they were often 'broken men,' intellectual outlaws, people of one wild idea. To the scientific mind, anthropologists or ethnologists were a horde who darkly muttered of serpent worship, phallus worship, Arkite doctrines, and the Ten Lost Tribes that kept turning up in the most unexpected places. Anthropologists were said to gloat over dirty rites of dirty savages, and to seek reason where there was none. The exiled, the outcast, the pariah of Science, is, indeed, apt to find himself in odd company. Round the camp-fire of Psychical Research too, in the unofficial, unstaked waste of Science, hover odd, menacing figures of Esoteric Buddhists, _Satanistes_, Occultists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, and Astrologers, as the Arkites and Lost Tribesmen haunted the cradle of anthropology.

But there was found at last to be reason in the thing, and method in the madness. Evolution was in it. The acceptance, after long ridicule, of palaeolithic weapons as relics of human culture, probably helped to bring Anthropology within the sacred circle of permitted knowledge. Her topic was full of illustrations of the doctrine of Mr. Darwin. Modern writers on the theme had been anticipated by the less systematic students of the eighteenth century--Goguet, de Brosses, Millar, Fontenelle, Lafitau, Boulanger, or even Hume and Voltaire. As pioneers these writers answer to the early mesmerists and magnetists, Puysegur, Amoretti, Ritter, Elliotson, Mayo, Gregory, in the history of Psychical Research. They were on the same track, in each case, as Lubbock, Tylor, Spencer, Bastian, and Frazer, or as Gurney, Richet, Myers, Janet, Dessoir, and Von Schrenck-Notzing. But the earlier students were less careful of method and evidence.

Evidence! that was the stumbling block of anthropology. We still hear, in the later works of Mr. Max Mueller, the echo of the old complaints. Anything you please, Mr. Max Mueller says, you may find among your useful savages, and (in regard to some anthropologists) his criticism is just. You have but to skim a few books of travel, pencil in hand, and pick out what suits your case. Suppose, as regards our present theme, your theory is that savages possess broken lights of the belief in a Supreme Being. You can find evidence for that. Or suppose you want to show that they have no religious ideas at all; you can find evidence for that also. Your testimony is often derived from observers ignorant of the language of the people whom they talk about, or who are themselves prejudiced by one or other theory or bias. How can you pretend to raise a science on such foundations, especially as the savage informants wish to please or to mystify inquirers, or they answer at random, or deliberately conceal their most sacred institutions, or have never paid any attention to the subject?

To all these perfectly natural objections Mr. Tylor has replied.[1] Evidence must be collected, sifted, tested, as in any other branch of inquiry. A writer, 'of course, is bound to use his best judgment as to the trustworthiness of all authors he quotes, and, if possible, to obtain several accounts to certify each point in each locality.' Mr. Tylor then adduces 'the test of recurrence,' of undesigned coincidence in testimony, as Millar had already argued in the last century.[2] If a mediaeval Mahommedan in Tartary, a Jesuit in Brazil, a Wesleyan in Fiji, one may add a police magistrate in Australia, a Presbyterian in Central Africa, a trapper in Canada, agree in describing some analogous rite or myth in these diverse lands and ages, we cannot set down the coincidence to chance or fraud. 'Now, the most important facts of ethnography are vouched for in this way.'

We may add that even when the ideas of savages are obscure, we can often detect them by analysis of the institutions in which they are expressed.[3]

Thus anthropological, like psychical or any other evidence, must be submitted to conscientious processes of testing and sifting. Contradictory instances must be hunted for sedulously. Nothing can be less scientific than to snatch up any traveller's tale which makes for our theory, and to ignore evidence, perhaps earlier, or later, or better observed, which makes against it. Yet this, unfortunately, in certain instances (which will be adduced) has been the occasional error of Mr. Huxley and Mr. Spencer.[4] Mr. Spencer opens his 'Ecclesiastical Institutions' by the remark that 'the implication [from the reported absence of the ideas of belief in persons born deaf and dumb] is that the religious ideas of civilised men are not innate' (who says they are?), and this implication Mr. Spencer supports by 'proofs that among various savages religious ideas do not exist.' 'Sir John Lubbock has given many of these.' But it would be well to advise the reader to consult Roskoff's confutation of Sir John Lubbock, and Mr. Tylor's masterly statement.[5] Mr. Spencer cited Sir Samuel Baker for savages without even 'a ray of superstition' or a trace of worship. Mr. Tylor, twelve years before Mr. Spencer wrote, had demolished Sir Samuel Baker's assertion,[6] as regards many tribes, and so shaken it as regards the Latukas, quoted by Mr. Spencer. The godless Dinkas have 'a good deity and heaven-dwelling creator,' carefully recorded years before Sir Samuel's 'rash denial.' We show later that Mr. Spencer, relying on a single isolated sentence in Brough Smyth, omits all his essential information about the Australian Supreme Being; while Mr. Huxley--overlooking the copious and conclusive evidence as to their ethical religion--charges the Australians with having merely a non-moral belief in casual spirits. We have also to show that Mr. Huxley, under the dominance of his theory, and inadvertently, quotes a good authority as saying the precise reverse of what he really does say.

If the facts not fitting their theories are little observed by authorities so popular as Mr. Huxley and Mr. Spencer; if _instantiae contradictoriae_ are ignored by them, or left vague; if these things are done in the green tree, we may easily imagine what shall be done in the dry. But we need not war with hasty _vulgarisateurs_ and headlong theorists.

Enough has been said to show the position of anthropology as regards evidence, and to prove that, if he confines his observations to certain anthropologists, the censures of Mr. Max Mueller are justified. It is mainly for this reason that the arguments presently to follow are strung on the thread of Mr. Tylor's truly learned and accurate book, 'Primitive Culture.'

Though but recently crept forth, _vix aut ne vix quidem_, from the chill shade of scientific disdain, Anthropology adopts the airs of her elder sisters among the sciences, and is as severe as they to the Cinderella of the family, Psychical Research. She must murmur of her fairies among the cinders of the hearth, while they go forth to the ball, and dance with provincial mayors at the festivities of the British Association. This is ungenerous, and unfortunate, as the records of anthropology are rich in unexamined materials of psychical research. I am unacquainted with any work devoted by an anthropologist of renown to the hypnotic and kindred practices of the lower races, except Herr Bastian's very meagre tract, 'Ueber psychische Beobachtungen bei Naturvoelkern.'[7] We possess, none the less, a mass of scattered information on this topic, the savage side of psychical phenomena, in works of travel, and in Mr. Tylor's monumental 'Primitive Culture.' Mr. Tylor, however, as we shall see, regards it as a matter of indifference, or, at least, as a matter beyond the scope of his essay, to decide whether the parallel supernormal phenomena believed in by savages, and said to recur in civilisation, are facts of actual experience, or not.

Now, this question is not otiose. Mr. Tylor, like other anthropologists, Mr. Huxley, Mr. Herbert Spencer, and their followers and popularisers, constructs on anthropological grounds, a theory of the Origin of Religion.

That origin anthropology explains as the result of early and fallacious reasonings on a number of biological and psychological phenomena, both normal and (as is alleged by savages) supernormal. These reasonings led to the belief in souls and spirits. Now, first, anthropology has taken for granted that the Supreme Deities of savages are envisaged by them as 'spirits.' This, paradoxical as the statement may appear, is just what does not seem to be proved, as we shall show. Next, if the supernormal phenomena (clairvoyance, thought-transference, phantasms of the dead, phantasms of the dying, and others) be real matters of experience, the inferences drawn from them by early savage philosophy may be, in some degree, erroneous. But the inferences drawn by materialists who reject the supernormal phenomena will also, perhaps, be, let us say, incomplete. Religion will have been, in part, developed out of facts, perhaps inconsistent with materialism in its present dogmatic form. To put it less trenchantly, and perhaps more accurately, the alleged facts 'are not merely dramatically strange, they are not merely extraordinary and striking, but they are "odd" in the sense that they will not easily fit in with the views which physicists and men of science generally give us of the universe in which we live' (Mr. A.J. Balfour, President's Address, 'Proceedings,' S.P.R. vol. x. p. 8, 1894).

As this is the case, it might seem to be the business of Anthropology, the Science of Man, to examine, among other things, the evidence for the actual existence of those alleged unusual and supernormal phenomena, belief in which is given as one of the origins of religion.

To make this examination, in the ethnographic field, is almost a new labour. As we shall see, anthropologists have not hitherto investigated such things as the 'Fire-walk' of savages, uninjured in the flames, like the Three Holy Children. The world-wide savage practice of divining by hallucinations induced through gazing into a smooth deep (crystal-gazing) has been studied, I think, by no anthropologist. The veracity of 'messages' uttered by savage seers when (as they suppose) 'possessed' or 'inspired' has not been criticised, and probably cannot be, for lack of detailed information. The 'physical phenomena' which answer among savages to the use of the 'divining rod,' and to 'spiritist' marvels in modern times, have only been glanced at. In short, all the savage parallels to the so-called 'psychical phenomena' now under discussion in England, America, Germany, Italy, and France, have escaped critical analysis and comparison with their civilised counterparts.

The Making of Religion - 10/68

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