Imagens das páginas

class of men which they may not find elsewhere, dissociated from the errors, the negations, which characterise this phase of unbelief. This would probably not fail to be almost universally seen and acknowledged if those who in the higher ranks of life make profession of religion would display a heartier and a manlier interest in those who are in the lower ranks, so that no man might be tempted to believe that religion is one of the things which stand either in the way of his personal happiness or of justice to his class.

1 See Appendix XXIV. 37



In the first Lecture of this course I stated that some authors had denied that there were any real or sincere atheists, but that I did not see how this view could be successfully maintained. In recent times a very different view has found a large number of advocates. It has been argued that religion, so far from being a universal, is not even a general characteristic of man; that so far from there being no atheists in the world, there are numerous tribes, and even some highly cultivated nations, wholly composed of atheists. The belief to which in ancient times Cicero and Plutarch in well-known passages gave eloquent expressionthe belief that wherever men exist they have some form of religion-can no longer be taken for granted; for many now assert, and some have laboured to prove, that there are peoples who have neither religious ideas, nor gods, nor any kind of worship. I shall now examine this view; but before entering on its direct discussion, a few preliminary remarks seem necessary.

First, then, the question, Are there entire tribes and nations which have no religious beliefs or practices whatever ? is a question as to a matter of fact. It ought to be decided, therefore, solely by an appeal to facts. But it is very apt to be decided, and has very often been decided, by the theological or philosophical prepossessions of those who have undertaken to answer it. Men like Büchner, Pouchet, O. Schmidt, show by the very tone in which they pronounce many of the lower tribes of men to be totally devoid of religious sentiments, that they deem this to be a stroke which tells strongly against religion. It is impossible, I think, for an impartial person, even were he on the whole to approve of their conclusion, to read what they have written, and to mark how they have written, on this subject, without perceiving that they have been more animated by dislike of religion than by the love of truth. On the other hand, with many it is a foregone conclusion that religion must be universal; and their reason for affirming it to be universal is, not that the relevant facts prove this, but that the honour of religion seems to them to require it. Now on neither side can this be justified. The truth alone ought to be sought, and it can only be found in the facts. The answer to the

question, Are there peoples without religion? ought, if legitimately obtained, to be taken into account in deciding whether or not man is an essentially religious being ; but it is not legitimately obtained if deduced from a foregone conclusion on that subject. Its place is among the premisses of an argument for or against the proposition that religion is rooted in man's very nature, not among corollaries from it.

There need not, perhaps, be great anxiety on either side to arrive at a particular answer. Were it made out that there are some degraded tribes which have no conception of the supernatural, little, it seems to me, would be proved either for or against religion. It would only show that circumstances might be so unfavourable, and the minds of men so inactive, dark, and debased, that the religious principles or tendencies of human nature could not manifest themselves. Of course, if it were adequately proved that atheism is so very widely prevalent as some maintain,-if it were established, in other words, that not only a great number of barbarous and semi-barbarous peoples are devoid of all religion, but that the many millions of Buddhists in China and Japan are strictly and properly atheists,-atheism would have considerable reason for exultation. For, though even that would certainly not prove atheism true or theism false, it would convince prejudiced minds. that human nature was not constitutionally framed for religion. It would very much weaken, if it did not destroy, the weighty argument for religion which the religious history of man presents. Still we have manifestly no right to reject the view that atheism is thus widely spread, merely because we dislike some of the inferences which would follow from it. We are bound to ask, Is it thus widely spread ?— a question which can only be answered by an appeal to facts; and facts ought always to be studied with minds as free as possible from preconceptions.

Not a few of the writers who have recently discussed the subject have been intent on showing that the facts conform to the Darwinian or some other theory of development. They have adapted the facts to their theory, instead of testing their theory by the facts. This is, of course, an unscientific and erroneous mode of procedure. And, it may be added, it is one to which the development theory does not logically require us to have recourse. It is as consistent with even the Darwinian form of the development theory that the origin of religion should be at any one point as at any other. It may have been antecedent to the origin of man, contemporaneous with it, or subsequent to it.

I remark, in the second place, that great care and caution require to be exercised before we draw a negative conclusion in a matter of the kind under

1 See Appendix XXV. , *

« AnteriorContinuar »