Images de page
PDF
ePub

affected their respective religions: whereas the structure of their words led the Shemites at once to the original signification of their divine names, the shifting character of the Aryan roots obliterated rapidly their primitive meanings. Thus there was a linguistic tendency among the Shemites to fix the theologic idea, and among the Aryans there was an opposite tendency to its obscuration.

“I invoke,” says the Yaçna, “I celebrate the Creator, Ahura Mazda, luminous, resplendent, very great, very active, very intelligent, and very beautiful, eminent in purity, possessor of true knowledge, source of pleasures, Him who has created, who has moulded, who has nourished us.”ı Epithets such as these easily detached themselves from the Supreme Deity, and became the proper names of inferior gods, even in that Zarathustrian creed which almost touched the sublime conception of a sole cause, so that we find like qualities to these becoming Ameschaspends: Vohumanô (from vôhu, Skr. vasu, good; and manó, Skr. manas, thought) benevolence; Craoshô (from crush, to hear) obedience; Quarenô glory; Ardvî-sûra (from Ardvi, Skr. ridh, high) the exalted. “These Ameschaspends, kings just and generous, deliver us from all the Devas, and the ills they bring, and from the hostile army." With the Aryan the significance of the old epithet was lost, and thus it became the name of a distinct god. But with the Shemite the significance was never lost.

If his first conception of God was one of force, he called Him El; and ever after, into whatever combinations that root would enter, the idea of force would penetrate. If he conceived Him as a being, he would term Him Jah; and Jah would ever convey to Him the notion of divine existence. In the same way, a title of honour to Him remained but a title, and nothing save the 1 Yaçna, ed. Spiegel, c. i. $ 1.

2 Vendidad, ii. 162.

irresistible passion for "gods many and lords many," which wrought so potently among the ancient races, could have blinded the eyes of the speakers of a Semitic language, so as to make them adore Baal, Milcom, and Rimmon, as distinct deities with different attributes. The worship addressed to each severally was like paying thrice the legitimate tribute to the monarch, because he had assumed to be called High, Exalted, Illustrious.

The pagan Shemite identified the active force in nature with the sun, and the passive force with the earth. Consequently he gave the sun the title of Baal and the earth that of Baaltis. But the sun has its variations of power and splendour, and these variations received special designations. By Serach was expressed the rising sun, by Baal-Chamman the blazing noon-day orb, by Adonis the sun alternating between summer and winter, life and death.

The original idea of God was vague, but it was more true than those countless vagaries of human thought which peopled heaven and earth with innumerable deities, and worshipped the same under different names. The fire of the conception of the Deity having kindled in the breast of man, exploded into terminology, coruscated in fable, and strewed the globe with sparks of truth and ashes of superstitiun

CHAPTER VI

THE LAW OF RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT

Varieties of religious beliefs—The result of natural law—Same law prevails

in physics, social life, and politics—Variety produced by simple means -Dynamics of religion-Belief progressive-Analogy of human embryo -The motor is a craving after truth_Constant flux in belief the result-Analogy of language-Accident causes rapid development or retardation of religious growth-Religion the synthesis of reason and sentiment-Dogma—Worship-Discipline—The statics of religionThe double tendency in all religions-Habit—Theocracies—Revelations -Benefits derived from arrest of too rapid development-Examples of counter currents—Example of stagnation.

HE world in all ages has teemed with religious beliefs

of the most diverse forms of ceremonial expression, strongly contrasting in system and opposed in dogma.

Here the priest smears with human blood the idol which will be overthrown on the morrow by the missionary of another creed. The gods of one nation are the devils of their neighbours. Here priests sacrifice children in flames to a god, and there men shelter and feed orphans as a work acceptable to their deity. These transfix their flesh with skewers, those indulge their every lust, and both from a religious motive. One worships an ideal of beauty, another an ideal of ugliness. Jacob leans on his staff to pray, Moses falls flat on his face, the Catholic bows his knee, and the Protestant settles himself into a seat.

lever

Social customs exhibit the same spectacle of variety and oppositions. English mothers are the objects of solicitude after their confinement, and Basque fathers, at the birth of their children, are swathed in blankets and fed with pap. Filial love is here exhibited by protracting the life of parents by every scientific appliance available; there by cutting it short with a tomahawk.

Political organizations exhibit the same differences. Here the welfare of thousands is subject to the caprice of a tyrant; there all men are on an equality. Here is feudalism, there theocracy.

Under all these diversities, philosophy has been able to detect radical affinities and unity of causes. Thus, out of love to a mother, the Fiji eats her, and the European erects a mausoleum. The sentiment is the same, but the mode of exhibition is different.

In political economy, the motive impulse is self-preservation, which throws men together into communities, and teaches them, by a series of experiments, to elaborate a system of government conducive to the advance of society and to the preservation of individuality. Yet each tentative form is so different from another that it is at first sight difficult to see that their very difference is proof of the unity of their origin.

In natural science the same result is obtained. The surface of the earth is covered with a vast multitude of species of plants, differing in habits, mode of propagation, and manner of growth. If we suppose that nature is employing incalculable efforts to produce this diversity, we are

. and analyse them separately, and you will find that their composition is almost identical. Five or six substances have sufficed to give birth to these heterogeneous compound

organisms ; nay, further, a great number of them are combined in precisely equal proportions, and, however contrasting they may be in appearance, in reality they are identical Two trees grow side by side in the same orchard; they have precisely the same organic structure, and are composed of the same chemical constituents, arranged in the same proportions, and apparently in the same order. Their roots extract the same nutriment from the soil in the same manner, their leaves inhale and exhale the same gases; they undergo the same changes of heat and cold, light and darkness; yet one converts its juices into pears and the other into cherries.

Wherever we look, we find evidence that nature produces the most complex effects with the simplest means. This law holds when applied to the religious beliefs of humanity. They fall into groups, and are reducible to a common origin.

The religious idea, like everything else that is human, undergoes growth, maturity, and decay. Beliefs spring into life and exercise a spell over intellects and hearts, produce a splendid array of flowers, and then, as the icy breath of doubt touches them, their sap congeals, they shrivel up and die, yet not before they have scattered around them living germs of new beliefs. Religion is the phenix of the fabie; growing old, it fires its nest, and in the flames finds renovation.

In its birth, it is a conception slowly evolved; then it becomes all at once a living belief, vividly luminous. For a while its meaning is accepted as final; then it becomes obscured, and again it bursts forth, brilliant and vigorous, at some other point.

Religion does not reach perfection of development at a bound. Generations pass away before it is brought to

« PrécédentContinuer »