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- The Making of Religion - 50/68 -


[Footnote 15: _Rel. Sem_. p. 207.]

[Footnote 16: _Rel. Sem_. p. 225.]

[Footnote 17: Op. cit. p. 247.]

[Footnote 18: Op. cit. p. 269.]

[Footnote 19: Op. cit. p. 277.]

[Footnote 20: Op. cit. p. 343. Citing Gen. xxii 2 Kings xxi. 6, Micah vi. 7, 2 Kings iii. 27.]

[Footnote 21: I mean, does not occur to my knowledge. New evidence is always upsetting anthropological theories.]

XVI

THEORIES OF JEHOVAH

All speculation on the curly history of religion is apt to end in the endeavour to see how far the conclusions can be made to illustrate the faith of Israel. Thus, the theorist who believes in ancestor-worship as the key of all the creeds will see in Jehovah a developed ancestral ghost, or a kind of fetish-god, attached to a stone--perhaps an ancient sepulchral stele of some desert sheikh.

The exclusive admirer of the hypothesis of Totemism will find evidence for his belief in worship of the golden calf and the bulls. The partisan of nature-worship will insist on Jehovah's connection with storm, thunder, and the fire of Sinai. On the other hand, whoever accepts our suggestions will incline to see, in the early forms of belief in Jehovah, a shape of the widely diffused conception of a Moral Supreme Being, at first (or, at least, when our information begins) envisaged in anthropomorphic form, but gradually purged of all local traits by the unexampled and unique inspiration of the great Prophets. They, as far as our knowledge extends, were strangely indifferent to the animistic element in religion, to the doctrine of surviving human souls, and so, of course, to that element of Animism which is priceless--the purification of the soul in the light of the hope of eternal life. Just as the hunger after righteousness of the Prophets is intense, so their hope of finally sating that hunger in an eternity of sinless bliss and enjoyment of God is confessedly inconspicuous. In short, they have carried Theism to its austere extreme--'though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him'--while unconcerned about the rewards of Animism. This is certainly a strange result of a religion which, according to the anthropological theory, has Animism for its basis.

We therefore examine certain forms of the animistic hypothesis as applied to account for the religion of Israel. The topic is one in which special knowledge of Hebrew and other Oriental languages seems absolutely indispensable; but anthropological speculators have not been Oriental scholars (with rare exceptions), while some Oriental scholars have borrowed from popular anthropology without much critical discrimination. These circumstances must be our excuse for venturing on to this difficult ground.

It is probably impossible for us to trace with accuracy the rise of the religion of Jehovah. 'The wise and learned' dispute endlessly over dates of documents, over the amount of later doctrine interpolated into the earlier texts, over the nature, source, and quantity of foreign influence--Chaldaean, Accadian, Egyptian, or Assyrian. We know that Israel had, in an early age, the conception of the moral Eternal; we know that, at an early age, that conception was contaminated and anthropomorphised; and we know that it was rescued, in a great degree, from this corruption, while always retaining its original ethical aspect and sanction. Why matters went thus in Israel and not elsewhere we know not, except that such was the will of God in the mysterious education of the world. How mysterious that education has been is best known to all who have studied the political and social results of Totemism. On the face of it a perfectly crazy and degrading belief--on the face of it meant for nothing but to make the family a hell of internecine hatred--Totemism rendered possible--nay, inevitable--the union of hostile groups into large and relatively peaceful tribal societies. Given the materials as we know them, we never should have educated the world thus; and we do not see why it should thus have been done. But we are very anthropomorphic, and totally ignorant of the conditions of the problem.

An example of anthropological theory concerning Jehovah was put forth by Mr. Huxley.[1] Mr. Huxley's general idea of religion as it is on the lowest known level of material culture--through which the ancestors of Israel must have passed like other people--has already been criticised. He denied to the most backward races both cult and religious sanction of ethics. He was demonstrably, though unconsciously, in error as to the facts, and therefore could not start from the idea that Israel, in the lowest historically known condition of savagery, possessed, or, like other races, might possess, the belief in an Eternal making for righteousness. 'For my part,' he says, 'I see no reason to doubt that, like the rest of the world, the Israelites had passed through a period of mere ghost-worship, and had advanced through ancestor-worship and Fetishism and Totemism to the theological level at which we find them in the Books of Judges and Samuel.'[2]

But why does he think the Israelites did all this? The Hebrew ghosts, abiding, according to Mr. Huxley, in a rather torpid condition in Sheol, would not be of much practical use to a worshipper. A reference in Deuteronomy xxvi. 14 (Deuteronomy being, _ex hypothesi_, a late pious imposture) does not prove much. The Hebrew is there bidden to remind himself of the stay of his ancestors in Egypt, and to say, 'Of the hallowed things I have not given aught for the dead'--namely, of the tithes dedicated to the Levites and the poor. A race which abode for centuries among the Egyptians, as Israel did--among a people who elaborately fed the _kas_ of the departed--might pick up a trace of a custom, the giving of food for the dead, still persevered in by St. Monica till St. Ambrose admonished her. But Mr. Huxley is hard put to it for evidence of ancestor-worship or ghost-worship in Israel when he looks for indications of these rites in 'the singular weight attached to the veneration of parents in the Fourth Commandment.'[3] The _Fourth_ Commandment, of course, is a slip of the pen. He adds: 'The Fifth Commandment, as it stands, would be an excellent compromise between ancestor-worship and Monotheism.' Long may children practise this excellent compromise! It is really too far-fetched to reason thus: 'People were bidden to honour their parents, as a compromise between Monotheism and ghost-worship.' Hard, hard bestead is he who has to reason in that fashion! This comes of 'training in the use of the weapons of precision of science.'

Mr. Huxley goes on: 'The Ark of the Covenant may have been a relic of ancestor-worship;' 'there is a good deal to be said for that speculation.' Possibly there is, by way of the valuable hypothesis that Jehovah was a fetish stone which had been a grave-stone, or perhaps a _lingam_, and was kept in the Ark on the plausible pretext that it was the two Tables of the Law!

However, Mr. Huxley really finds it safer to suppose that references to ancestor-worship in the Bible were obliterated by late monotheistic editors, who, none the less, are so full and minute in their descriptions of the various heresies into which Israel was eternally lapsing, and must not be allowed to lapse again. Had ancestor-worship been a _peche mignon_ of Israel, the Prophets would have let Israel hear their mind on it.

The Hebrews' indifference to the departed soul is, in fact, a puzzle, especially when we consider their Egyptian education--so important an element in Mr. Huxley's theory.

Mr. Herbert Spencer is not more successful than Mr. Huxley in finding ancestor-worship among the Hebrews. On the whole subject he writes:

'Where the levels of mental nature and social progress are lowest, we usually find, along with an absence of religious ideas generally, an absence, or very slight development, of ancestor-worship.... Cook [Captain Cook], telling us what the Fuegians were before contact with Europeans had introduced foreign ideas, said there were no appearances of religion among them; and we are not told by him or others that they were ancestor-worshippers.'[4]

Probably they are not; but they do possess a Being who reads their hearts, and who certainly shows no traces of European ideas. If the Fuegians are not ancestor-worshippers, this Being was not developed out of ancestor-worship.

The evidence of Captain Cook, no anthropologist, but a mariner who saw and knew little of the Fuegians, is precisely of the sort against which Major Ellis warns us.[5] The more a religion consists in fear of a moral guardian of conduct, the less does it show itself, by sacrifice or rite, to the eyes of Captain Cook, of his Majesty's ship _Endeavour_. Mr. Spencer places the Andamanese on the same level as the Fuegians, 'so far as the scanty evidence may be trusted.' We have shown that (as known to Mr. Spencer in 1876) it may not be trusted at all; the Andamanese possessing a moral Supreme Being, though they are not, apparently, ancestor-worshippers. The Australians 'show us not much persistence in ghost-propitiation,' which, if it exists, ceases when the corpses are tied up and buried, or after they are burned, or after the bones, carried about for a while, are exposed on platforms. Yet many Australian tribes possess a moral Supreme Being.

In fact ghost-worship, in Mr. Spencer's scheme, cannot be fairly well developed till society reaches the level of 'settled groups whose burial-places are in their midst.' Hence the development of a moral Supreme Being among tribes _not_ thus settled, is inconceivable, on Mr. Spencer's hypothesis.[6] By that hypothesis, 'worshipped ancestors, according to their remoteness, were regarded as divine, semi-divine, and human.'[7] Where we find, then, the Divine Being among nomads who do not remember their great-grandfathers, the Spencerian theory is refuted by facts. We have the effect, the Divine Being, without the cause, worship of ancestors.

Coming to the Hebrews, Mr. Spencer argues that 'the silence of their legends (as to ancestor-worship) is but a negative fact, which may be as misleading as negative facts usually are.' They are, indeed; witness Mr. Spencer's own silence about savage Supreme Beings. But we may fairly argue that if Israel had been given to ancestor-worship (as might partly be surmised from the mystery about the grave of Moses) the Prophets would not have spared them for their crying. The Prophets were unusually outspoken men, and, as they undeniably do scold Israel for every other kind of conceivable heresy, they were not likely to be silent about ancestor-worship, if ancestor-worship existed. Mr. Spencer, then, rather heedlessly, though correctly, argues that 'nomadic habits are unfavourable to evolution of the ghost-theory.'[8] Alas, this gives away the whole case! For, if all men began as nomads, and nomadic habits are unfavourable even to the ordinary ghost, how did the Australian and other nomads develop the Supreme Being, who, _ex hypothesi_, is the final fruit of the ghost-flower? If you cannot have 'an established ancestor-worship' till you abandon nomadic habits, how, while still nomadic, do you evolve a Supreme Being? Obviously not out of ancestor-worship.


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