The Religious Sentiment Part 1


The Religious Sentiment

The Religious Sentiment Part 1

The Religious Sentiment.

by Daniel G. Brinton.


Mythology, since it began to receive a scientific handling at all, has been treated as a subordinate branch of history or of ethnology. The "science of religion," as we know it in the works of Burnouf, Muller, and others, is a comparison of systems of worship in their historic development. The deeper inquiry as to what in the mind of man gave birth to religion in any of its forms, what spirit breathed and is ever breathing life into these dry bones, this, the final and highest question of all, has had but pa.s.sing or prejudiced attention. To its investigation this book is devoted.

The a.n.a.lysis of the religious sentiment I offer is an inductive one, whose outlines were furnished by a preliminary study of the religions of the native race of America, a field selected as most favorable by reason of the simplicity of many of its cults, and the absence of theories respecting them. This study was embodied in "The Myths of the New World; a Treatise on the Symbolism and Mythology of the Red Race of America"

(second edition, N. Y. 1876).

The results thus obtained I have in the present work expanded by including in the survey the historic religions of the Old World, and submitted the whole for solution to the Laws of Mind, regarded as physiological elements of growth, and to the Laws of Thought, these, as formal only, being held as nowise a development of those. This latter position, which is not conceded by the reigning school of psychology, I have taken pains to explain and defend as far as consistent with the plan of this treatise; but I am well aware that to say all that can be said in proof of it, would take much more s.p.a.ce than here allowed.

The main questions I have had before me in writing this volume have an interest beyond those which mere science propounds. What led men to imagine G.o.ds at all? What still prompts enlightened nations to worship?

Is prayer of any avail, or of none? Is faith the last ground of adoration, or is reason? Is religion a transient phase of development, or is it the chief end of man? What is its warrant of continuance? If it overlive this day of crumbling theologies, whence will come its reprieve?

To such inquiries as these, answers satisfactory to thinking men of this time can, I believe, be given only by an inductive study of religions, supported by a sound psychology, and conducted in a spirit which acknowledges as possibly rightful, the reverence which every system claims. Those I propose, inadequate though they may be, can at any rate pretend to be the result of honest labor.

PHILADELPHIA, _January, 1876_.



The distinction between the Science and the Philosophy of religion.

It is a.s.sumed (1) that religions are products of thought, (2) that they have a unity of kind and purpose. They can be studied by the methods of natural science applied to Mind.

Mind is co-extensive with organism. Sensation and Emotion are prominent marks of it. These are either pleasurable or painful; the latter _diminish_ vital motions, the former _increase_ them. This is a product of natural selection. A mis-reading of these facts is the fallacy of Buddhism and other pessimistic systems. Pleasure comes from continuous action. This is ill.u.s.trated by the esthetic emotions, volition and consciousness.

The climax of mind is Intellect. Physical changes accompany thought but cannot measure it. Relations of thought and feeling. _Truth_ is its only measure. Truth, like pleasure, is desired for its preservative powers. It is reached through the laws of thought.

These laws are: (1) the natural order of the a.s.sociation of ideas, (2) the methods of applied logic, (3) the forms of correct reasoning. The last allow of mathematical expression. They are three in number, called those of Determination, Limitation and Excluded Middle.

The last is the key-stone of religious philosophy. Its diverse interpretations. Its mathematical expres ion[TN-1] shows that it does not relate to contradictories. But certain concrete a.n.a.lytic propositions, relating to contraries, do have this form. The contrary as distinguished from the privative. The Conditioned and Unconditioned, the Knowable and Unknowable are not true contradictions. The synthesis of contraries is theoretic only.

Errors as to the limits of possible explanation corrected by these distinctions. The formal law is the last and complete explanation.

The relations of thought, belief and being.




The Science of Religion is one of the branches of general historical science. It embraces, as the domain of its investigation, all recorded facts relating to the displays of the Religious Sentiment. Its limits are defined by those facts, and the legitimate inferences from them. Its aim is to ascertain the const.i.tutive laws of the origin and spread of religions, and to depict the influence they have exerted on the general life of mankind.

The question whether a given religion is true or false cannot present itself in this form as a proper subject of scientific inquiry. The most that can be asked is, whether some one system is best suited to a specified condition of the individual or the community.

The higher inquiry is the object of the Philosophy of Religion. This branch of study aims to pa.s.s beyond recorded facts and local adjustments in order to weigh the theoretical claims of religions, and measure their greater or less conformity with abstract truth. The formal or regulative laws of religious thought occupy it.

Theology, dogmatic or polemic, is an explanatory defence of some particular faith. Together with mythology and symbolism, it furnishes the material from which the Science and Philosophy of Religion seek to educe the laws and frame the generalizations which will explain the source and aim of religion in general.

The common source of all devotional displays is the Religious Sentiment, a complex feeling, a thorough understanding of which is an essential preliminary to the study of religious systems.

Such a study proceeds on the a.s.sumption that all religions are products of thought, commenced and continued in accordance with the laws of the human mind, and, therefore, comprehensible to the extent to which these laws are known. No one disputes this, except in reference to his own religion. This, he is apt to a.s.sert, had something "supernatural" about its origin. If this word be correctly used, it may stand without cavil.

The "natural" is that of which we know in whole or in part the laws; the "supernatural" means that of which we do not at present know in any degree the laws. The domain of the supernatural diminishes in the ratio of the increase of knowledge; and the inference that it also is absolutely under the control of law, is not only allowable but obligatory.

A second a.s.sumption must be that there is a unity of kind and purpose in all religions. Without this, no common law can exist for them. Such a law must hold good in all ages, in every condition of society, and in each instance. Hence those who explain religious systems as forms of government, or as systems of ethics, or as misconceived history, or as theories of natural philosophy, must be prepared to make their view good when it is universally applied, or else renounce the possibility of a Science of Religion; while those who would except their own system from what they grant is the law of all others, violate the principles of investigation and thereby the canons of truth.

The methods of science are everywhere alike. Has the naturalist to explain an organism, he begins with its elements or proximate principles as obtained by a.n.a.lysis; he thence to the tissues and fluids which compose its members; these he considers first in a state of repose, their structure and their connections; then he examines their functions, the laws of their growth and action; and finally he has recourse to the doctrine of relations, _la theorie des milieux_, to define the conditions of its existence. Were such a method applied to a religion, it would lead us first to study its psychological elements, then the various expressions in word and act to which these give occasion, next the record of its growth and decay, and finally from these to gather the circ.u.mstantials of human life and culture which led to its historic existence.

Some have urged that such a method should not be summoned to questions in mental philosophy. To do so, say they, is to confound things distinct, requiring distinct plans of study. Such a criticism might have had weight in the days when the mind was supposed to inhabit the body as a tenant a house, and have no relation to it other than that of a casual occupant. But that opinion is antiquated. More than three-fourths of a century ago the far-seeing thinker, Wilhelm von Humboldt, laid down the maxim that the phenomena of mind and matter obey laws identical in kind;[6-1] and a recent historian of science sums up the result of the latest research in these words:

"The old dualism of mind and body, which for centuries struggled in vain for reconciliation, finds it now, not indeed in the unity of substance, but in the unity of laws."[6-2]

It is, therefore, as a question in mental philosophy to be treated by the methods of natural science, that I shall approach the discussion of the religious sentiment. As it is a part, or at least a manifestation of mind, I must preface its more particular consideration with some words on the mind in general, words which I shall make as few and as clear as possible.

At the beginning of this century, the naturalist Oken hazarded the a.s.sertion: "The human mind is a memberment of infusorial sensation,"[7-1] a phrase which has been the guiding principle of scientific psychology ever since. That in the course of this memberment or growth wholly new faculties are acquired, is conceded. As the union of two inorganic substances may yield a third different in every respect from either; or, as in the transition of inorganic to organic matter, the power of reproduction is attained; so, positively new powers may attend the development of mind. From sensations it progresses to emotions, from emotions to reason. The one is the psychical climax of the other. "We have still to do with the one mind,whose[TN-2] action developes itself with perception, through discrimination, till it arrives at notions, wherein its most general scheme, 'truth and error,'

serves as the principle."[8-1]

Extravagant as Oken's expression seemed to many when it was published, it now falls short of the legitimate demands of science, and I may add, of religion. _Mind is co-extensive with organism_; in the language of logic, one "connotes" the other; this statement, and nothing short of it, satisfies the conditions of the problem. Wherever we see Form preserved amid the change of substance, _there_ is mind; it alone can work that miracle; only it gives Life. Matter suffers no increase; therefore the new is but a redistribution of the old; it is new in _form_ only; and the maintenance of form under changes of substance is the one distinguishing mark of organism. To it is added the yet more wonderful power of transmitting form by reproduction. Wherever these are, are also the rudiments of mind. The distinction between the animal and the vegetable worlds, between the reasoning and unreasoning animals, is one of degree only. Whether, in a somewhat different sense, we should not go yet further, and say that mind is co-extensive with motion, and hence with phenomena, is a speculative inquiry which may have to be answered in the affirmative, but it does not concern us here.

The first and most general mark of Mind is sensation or common feeling.

In technical language a sensation is defined to be the result of an impression on an organism, producing some molecular change in its nerve or life centres. It is the consequence of a contact with another existence. Measured by its effects upon the individual the common law of sensation is: Every impression, however slight, either adds to or takes from the sum of the life-force of the system; in the former case it produces a pleasurable, in the latter a painful sensation. The exceptions to this rule, though many, are such in appearance only.[9-1]

In the human race the impression can often be made quite as forcibly by a thought as by an act. "I am confident," says John Hunter, the anatomist, "that I can fix my attention to any part, until I have a sensation in that part." This is what is called the influence of the mind upon the body. Its extent is much greater than used to be imagined, and it has been a fertile source of religious delusions. Such sensations are called subjective; those produced by external force, objective.

The immediate consequent of a sensation is _reflex action_, the object of which is either to avoid pain or increase pleasure, in other words, either to preserve or augment the individual life.

The molecular changes incident to a sensation leave permanent traces, which are the physical bases of memory. One or several such remembered sensations, evoked by a present sensation, combine with it to form an Emotion. Characteristic of their origin is it that the emotions fall naturally into a dual cla.s.sification, in which the one involves pleasurable or elevating, the other painful or depressing conditions.

Thus we have the pairs joy and grief, hope and fear, love and hate, etc.

The question of pleasure and pain is thus seen to be the primary one of mental science. We must look to it to explain the meaning of sensation as a common quality of organism. What is the significance of pleasure and pain?

The question involves that of Life. Not to stray into foreign topics, it may broadly be said that as all change resolves itself into motion, and, as Helmholtz remarks, all science merges itself into mechanics, we should commence by asking what vital motions these sensations stand for or correspond to.

Every organism, and each of its parts, is the resultant of innumerable motions, a composition of forces. As such, each obeys the first law of motion, to wit, indefinite continuance of action until interfered with.

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