Remarks on "The Origin of Religious Belief"

<44036E> 264

J. N. Darby.

(Notes and Comments Vol. 4.)

{"The origin and development of Religious Belief," by S. Baring-Gould, M.A. Rivingtons, London, Oxford and Cambridge, 1869.}

The writer has scraped together a good deal of reading, but he has left out God and the truth altogether. He looks for no origin of man or his state, and takes him as a capable wild man of the woods, to be formed, yet his present state as the key to everything normal, and what he is subjectively the measure of what is true objectively. It is an excessively superficial book - an amiable, but unserious, shallow pluming itself on free thinking, but would bring in Christianity, as man would have it, by it. He thinks of everything and knows nothing, and likes giving his thoughts because he thinks well of them.

If ever leaving out God was proved to lead to superficiality and folly, it is this book. A few true ideas, but which come to nothing because all root is wanting. I dare say the man thinks he is right, but it is a few secondary causes strung, most frequently falsely, to general reading, and all that is important left out or forgotten. Not even conscience is admitted, nor man, morally, more than God. People forget, too, that, in forming a system of man, they are denying another; God has given one. But I think it a useful book in this, that it shows the perfect moral mud and folly into which the exclusion of God throws the mind. The passage, through the powers of Nature to Polytheism, is, I believe, just and well enough, but though as Hesiod and Homer may have elaborated, r do not doubt priests concocted it, not a moment. Who made these 'synonyms'? 'The sun a warrior clad in golden panoply, the moon a queen, the stars armies of heroes or spirits'? Who were consulted about everything? In Egypt and India one cannot hesitate. If he left out God before, he leaves out the Devil before, and the progress from one God and mere powers of nature to Polytheism is clear in all religions indeed but in the Vedas, Myths and Puranas. But there was an unknown God in all, behind the actual worship. On the star-worship, he is very weak, and deifying heroes and ancestors. Doubtless there is truth in it, but the verbal source is poor. The whole has little depth. The end is very superficial. All the Indian gods are mortal, and the converse of his statement is sometimes true. He says: 'If it be true that man is made in the image of God, it is also true that the gods man worships are images of himself, but larger, mightier, wiser, better. God is the superlative of man the positive,' page 150.

265 Again, speaking of the 'history of the evolution of the religious idea through its different stages,' he says: 'here one practice is exaggerated, there another, and there again a third has been built up to harmonise the other two. Thus the world is strewn with egg, grub, chrysalis, and butterfly creeds.' This is just about what they are worth.

Again. 'The attribution to the Deity of wisdom and goodness is every whit as much anthropomorphosis as the attribution of limbs and passions.' But why so? He does not tell us.

Page 136. 'Before man can learn to do things right, he must do things wrong. Before he can discover the right path in science, religion, and political economy, he has to flounder through a bog of blunders. The girl strums discords before she strikes harmonies; the boy scratches pothooks before he draws straight lines. The early religious beliefs of the human family are its discords and pothooks, the stages of error of which it has travelled before correct ideas can be attained. At first, then, man is conscious of no existence save his own; he is like the brute, self-centred and self-sufficient; he is his own God. He is Autotheist. His religious thought, vague and undetermined, is roused by the opposition of nature to his will.'

It is curious how false philosophy always is. How, taking man as he is, God is left out, and man is supposed to begin, i.e., to have been created with no connection with, or knowledge of, or relation to God at all. A most absurd and low idea, as if God would have left man, in making him, capable of progress towards, but wholly, absolutely, incognisant of anything but himself, to make out a God as he could! 'Men were in this state' - but how? I may go back to enquire what they would do when they had not God at all, but have no ground or right to assume it was an original state, and there is no experience of men, as such, coming to it. Some glimmerings only of a few, and these wretched, but no people. There are testimonies of dreadful descent. The Vedas have much more of one supreme God than the Mahabharata or the Puranas. Men have gone down, not up, when there was a revelation, and Buddhism is an extreme case, when the misery of men's state was thought only to be met by losing self as an existence with no God - only gods as bad as men.

266 Page 234. If you want to see the destruction of all principle, and all right feeling, everything good, read this page. He says: 'Virtue is the judicious selection of that course of action most conducive to intense and permanent happiness, and the adoption of a line of conduct which is destructive to happiness is vice. As a compound being man can derive happiness from two sources, the animal senses and the mental faculties. If he rejects the nobler spheres of pleasure for those that are baser, he is vicious; if he abandons sensual gratification for intellectual pursuits, he is virtuous, because the sum-total of intellectual happiness is greater than the sum-total of sensual happiness. Virtue is selfishness acting with judgment: vice is selfishness acting ignorantly and blindly. A man gets drunk either because he does not know that intemperance is ruinous to his constitution, or because he has so little acquaintance with the laws of mental perspective as to suppose that a small present gratification is preferable to a great remote happiness, just as a child supposes the apple in its hand to be larger than the apple tree at a distance.'

Again, page 239. 'In the examination of the springs of religious thought, we have to return again and again to the wild bog of savageism in which they bubble up. The recognition of Power uncontrolled by man has been shown to constitute the first religious idea. At that point it could not rest. At certain periods the movement in ideas is slow, and speculation is apparently at a standstill; but such periods are like the stress-points of a water-wheel the movement is slowest because the greatest leverage is being employed, and that point passed, it revolves with accelerated velocity. Through the dim perceptions of a bewildered intellect the primeval man saw confusedly piled up above him an awful Power, terrible in its might, vague in outline, and mysterious in its nature. Wherever he turned his eye it loomed on him, and seemed to threaten him with destruction. At this first stage a great part of mankind still remains, its mind benumbed with fear.' This shows how all truth, if Scripture be truth, is denied, and in all its roots and reality.

In page 248, the converse, of what he says, is true. All idea of infinity is, he says, negation - 'infinite.' Thus: 'A limit is that beyond which the object limited does not spread. But beyond all limits space is. The limit is a negation. Deny limitation to space, and you affirm its infinity. What is finite is therefore a negative idea; and a finite being is a negation of an infinite being!'

267 Page 249. 'There is a distinction between time and duration analogous to that between space and extension. Duration implies something to endure, as extension implies something to extend. But we cannot conceive time devoid of anything to endure in it. As substances are situated in and take up space, so do events occupy time; but we can intellectually annihilate space, whilst time remains indestructible.' This is open to question, indeed he is all wrong here about time with succession limit - 'Am,' i.e., no time or duration, is alone eternal or timeless. Events are in time, but I cannot conceive any length of it without events or measures, i.e., it is finite, save as I negative an end. He says, 'We can conceive eternity stretching far beyond the earliest beginning and the remotest ending.' Conceiving eternity as infinite time is merely human, because we are finite, exist in time. 'Have time, being in eternity,' is nonsense, confounding two orders of idea. He says, 'In the popular sense, for unlimited time employ the word eternity.' Popularly, it may be said, but it is not correct.

Page 252, 'Mr. James Mill, Anal: 1, 262, takes a rose: a determinate mixture of red colour, of a certain fragrance, and of softness of touch and the like, he says, is popularly termed a rose.' But what is the rose beside the colour, the form, and so on?' he asks. 'Not knowing what it is, but supposing it to be something, we invent a name to stand for it. We call it a substratum. This substratum, when closely examined, is not distinguishable from cause. It is the cause of the qualities; that is, the cause of the causes of our sensations.' Whether there be substance or not matters nothing to our argument. As a fact, men, the world all over, do believe in substance.' Mr. Mill is a goose. I think substance is what constitutes a thing to my mind, a distinct cognisable existence, but properly not a person, hence material, not a spirit, though philosophy may so abstract and use it. He is excessively inaccurate. He says: 'Corporeal substance is the essence underlying matter.' Now substance is not essence, nor does substance do well for 'spiritual individualities,' persons, because one spiritual substance is a subjective thing, not a thinking, willing individual.

268 Page 255, he says: 'The theist conjectures a primary spiritual substance, whence all spiritual substances are derived.' Derived! Though there be truth in it, this is dangerous ground.

Page 293. 'Religion and philosophy are inseparable. In the former sentiment predominates, in the latter reason. Religion is the representation of an idea more or less philosophic: it is always the expression of a thought; often it is unconsciously philosophic. The task undertaken by philosophy is enquiry into the fundamental reason of things; and in proportion to the degree of development attained at any given period, does it express the idea of the divinity more or less perfectly.' And facts? The blessed facts? Surely there may be the corruption of a thing made good. The more I read philosophy, the more I despise it.