Edward Carpenter.

Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

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torical than a mythical piece, by players who, having to die in grim
earnest on a cross or gallows, were naturally drawn from the gaol


There are many other difficulties. The raising of Lazarus,
already dead three days, the turning of water into wine
(a miracle attributed to Bacchus, of old), the feeding of
the five thousand, and others of the marvels are, to say
the least, not easy of digestion. The "Sermon on the
Mount" which, with the "Lord's Prayer" embedded in
it, forms the great and accepted repository of 'Christian'
teaching and piety, is well known to be a collection of sayings
from pre-christian writings, including the Psalms, Isaiah,
Ecclesiasticus, the Secrets of Enoch, the Shemonehesreh (a
book of Hebrew prayers), and others; and the fact that this
collection was really made after the time of Jesus, and could
not have originated from him, is clear from the stress which
it lays on "persecutions" and "false prophets" — things which
were certainly not a source of trouble at the time
Jesus is supposed to be speaking, though they were at a
later time — as well as from the occurrence of the word
"Gentiles," which being here used apparently in contra-
distinction to "Christians" could not well be appropriate
at a time when no recognized Christian bodies as yet

But the most remarkable point in this connection is the
absolute silence of the Gospel of Mark on the subject of
the Resurrection and Ascension — that is, of the original
Gospel, for it is now allowed on all hands that the twelve
verses Mark xvi. 9 to the end, are a later insertion. Con-
sidering the nature of this event, astounding indeed, if
physically true, and unique in the history of the world,
it is strange that this Gospel — the earliest written of the
four Gospels, and nearest in time to the actual evidence —

rather than the green-room, A chain of causes, which because we
cannot follow them might — in the loose language of common life
— be called an accident, determined that the part of the dying god
in this annual play should be thrust upon Jesus of Nazareth, whom
the enemies he had made in high places by his outspoken strictures
were resolved to put out of the way." See also vol. iv, "The Dying
God," in the same book.


makes no mention of it. The next Gospel in point of time
— that of Matthew — mentions the matter rather briefly
and timidly, and reports the story that the body had been
stolen from the sepulchre. Luke enlarges considerably and
gives a whole long chapter to the resurrection and as-
cension; while the Fourth Gospel, written fully twenty
years later still — say about a. d. 120 — gives two chapters and
a great variety of details!

This increase of detail, however, as one gets farther
and farther from the actual event is just what one always
finds, as I have said before, in legendary traditions. A
very interesting example of this has lately come to light in
the case of the traditions concerning the life and
death of the Persian Bab. The Bab, as most of my readers
will know, was the Founder of a great religious movement
which now numbers (or numbered before the Great War)
some millions of adherents, chiefly Mahommedans, Christ-
ians, Jews and Parsees. The period of his missionary
activity was from 1845 to 1850. His Gospel was singularly
like that of Jesus — a gospel of love to mankind — only (as
might be expected from the difference of date) with an
even wider and more deliberate inclusion of all classes,
creeds and races, sinners and saints; and the incidents
and entourage of his ministry were also singularly similar.
He was born at Shiraz in 1820, and growing up a promising
boy and youth, fell at the age of 21 under the influence
of a certain Seyyid Kazim, leader of a heterodox sect, and
a kind of fore-runner or John the Baptist to the Bab. The
result was a period of mental trouble (like the "tempta-
tion in the wilderness"), after which the youth returned
to Shiraz and at the age of twenty-five began his own mission.
His real name was Mirza Ali Muhammad, but he called
himself thenceforth The Bab, i.e. the Gate ("I am the Way") ;
and gradually there gathered round him disciples, drawn
by the fascination of his personality and the devotion
of his character. But with the rapid increase of his


following great jealousy and hatred were excited aniong the
Mullahs, the upholders of a fanatical and narrow-
minded Mahommedanism and quite corresponding to the
Scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament. By them
he was denounced to the Turkish Government. He was
arrested on a charge of causing political disturbance, and
was condemned to death. Among his disciples was one
favorite,^ who was absolutely devoted to his Master and
refused to leave him at the last. So together they were
suspended over the city wall (at Tabriz) and simultaneously
shot. This was on the 8th July, 1850.

In November 1850 — or between that date and October 1851,
a book appeared, written by one of the Bab's earliest
and most enthusiastic disciples — a merchant of Kashan —
and giving in quite simple and unpretending form a record
of the above events. There is in it no account of miracles
or of great pretensions to godhood and the like. It is just
a plain history of the life and death of a beloved teacher. It
was cordially received and circulated far and wide; and
we have no reason for doubting its essential veracity. And
even if proved now to be inaccurate in one or two details, this
would not invalidate the moral of the rest of the story — which
is as follows:

After the death of the Bab a great persecution took place
(in 1852); there were many Babi martjTS, and for some
years the general followers were scattered. But in time
they gathered themselves together again; successors to the
original prophet were appointed — though not without dis-
sensions — and a Babi church, chiefly at Acca or Acre
in Syria, began to be formed. It was during this period
that a great number of legends grew up — legends of miracu-
lous babyhood and boyhood, legends of miracles performed
by the mature Bab, and so forth; and when the newly-form-
ing Church came to look into the matter it concluded

1 Mirza Muhammad Ali; and one should note the similarity of
the two names.


(quite naturally!) that such a simple history as I have out-
lined above would never do for the foundation of its plans,
now grown somewhat ambitious. So a new Gospel
was framed, called the Tarikh-i-Jadid ("The new History"
or "The new Way"), embodying and including a lot of leg-
endary matter, and issued with the authority of "the
Church." This was in 1881-2; and comparing this with
the original record (called The point of Kaf) we get
a luminous view of the growth of fable in those thirty brief
years which had elapsed since the Bab's death. Meanwhile
it became very necessary of course to withdraw from circu-
lation as far as possible all copies of the original record,
lest they should give the lie to the later 'Gospel'; and
this apparently was done very effectively — so effectively
indeed that Professor Edward Browne (to whom the world
owes so much on account of his labors in connection with
Babism), after arduous search, came at one time to the
conclusion that the original was no longer extant. Most
fortunately, however, the well-known Comte de Gobineau
had in the course of his studies on Eastern Religions acquired
a copy of The point of Kaf ; and this, after his death, was
found among his literary treasures and identified (as was most
fitting) by Professor Browne himself.

Such in brief is the history of the early Babi Church^
— a Church which has grown up and expanded greatly
within the memory of many yet living. Much might be writ-
ten about it, but the chief point at present is for us
to note the well-verified and interesting example it gives
of the rapid growth in Syria of a religious legend and the
reasons which contributed to this growth — and to be warned
how much more rapidly similar legends probably grew up
in the same land in the middle of the First Century, a.d.

1 For literature, see Edward G. Browne's Traveller's Narrative on
the Episode of the Bab (i8qi), and his New History of the Bab trans-
lated from the Persian of the Tarikh-i-Jadid {Cambridge, 1893). Also
Sermons and Essays by Herbert Rix (Williams and Norgate, 1907).
pp. 295-325, "The Persian Bab."


The story of the Bab is also interesting to us because, while
this mass of legend was formed around it, there is no possible
doubt about the actual existence of a historical nucleus in the
person of Mirza AH Muhammad.

On the whole, one is sometimes inclined to doubt whether
any great movement ever makes itself felt in the world, with-
out dating first from some powerful personality or
group of personalities, round which the idealizing and myth-
making genius of mankind tends to crystallize. But one
must not even here be too certain. Something of the
Apostle Paul we know, and something of 'John' the
Evangelist and writer of the Epistle i John; and that the
'Christian' doctrines dated largely from the preaching and
teaching of these two we cannot doubt; but Paul
never saw Jesus (except "in the Spirit"), nor does he ever
mention the man personally, or any incident of his actual
life (the "crucified Christ" being always an ideal figure);
and 'John' who wrote the Gospel was certainly not the same
as the disciple who "lay in Jesus' bosom" — though
an intercalated verse, the last but one in the Gospel, asserts
the identity.^

There may have been a historic Jesus — and if so, to get
a reliable outline of his life would indeed be a treasure;
but at present it would seem there is no sign of that. If
the historicity of Jesus, in any degree, could be proved,
it would give us reason for supposing — what I have person-
ally always been inclined to believe — that there was also a
historical nucleus for such personages as Osiris, Mithra,
Krishna, Hercules, Apollo and the rest. The question,
in fact, narrows itself down to this, Have there been in
the course of human evolution certain, so to speak, nodal
points or periods at which the psychologic currents ran
together and condensed themselves for a new start; and

1 It is obvious, in fact, that the whole of the last chapter of St.
John is a later insertion, and again that the two last verses of that
chapter are later than the chapter itself!


has each such node or point of condensation been marked
by the appearance of an actual and heroic man (or woman)
who supplied a necessary impetus for the new departure,
and gave his name to the resulting movement? or is it sufficient
to suppose the automatic formation of such nodes or
starting-points without the intervention of any special
hero or genius, and to imagine that in each case the myth-
making tendency of mankind created a legendary and
inspiring figure and worshiped the same for a long period
afterwards as a god?

As I have said before, this is a question which, interesting
as it is, is not really very important. The main thing being
that the prophetic and creative spirit of mankind has from
time to time evolved those figures as idealizations of its
"heart's desire" and placed a halo round their heads.
The long procession of them becomes a real piece of History
— the history of the evolution of the human heart, and of
human consciousness. But with the psychology of the whole
subject I shall deal in the next chapter.

I may here, however, dwell for a moment on two other
points which belong properly to this chapter. I have
already mentioned the great reliance placed by the advocates
of a unique 'revelation' on the high morality taught in the
Gospels and the New Testament generally. There is no
need of course to challenge that morality or to depreciate it
unduly; but the argument assumes that it is so greatly superior
to anything of the kind that had been taught be-
fore that we are compelled to suppose something hke
a revelation to explain its appearance — whereas of course
anyone familiar with the writings of antiquity, among the
Greeks or Romans or Egj^Dtians or Hindus or later Jews,
knows perfectly well that the reported sayings of Jesus and
the Apostles may be paralleled abundantly from these sources.
I have illustrated this already from the Sermon on
the Mount. If anyone will glance at the Testament of


the Twelve Patriarchs — a Jewish book composed about
120 B. c. — he will see that it is full of moral precepts, and
especially precepts of love and forgiveness, so ardent and
so noble that it hardly suffers in any way when compared
with the New Testament teaching, and that consequently no
special miracle is required to explain the appearance of the

The twelve Patriarchs in question are the twelve sons of
Jacob, and the book consists of their supposed death-
bed scenes, in which each patriarch in turn recites his own
(more or less imaginary) life and deeds and gives pious
counsel to his children and successors. It is composed in
a fine and poetic style, and is full of lofty thought, remind-
ful in scores of passages of the Gospels — words and all —
the coincidences being too striking to be acidental. It
evidently had a deep influence on the authors of the Gospels,
as well as on St. Paul. It affirms a belief in the coming of
a Messiah, and in salvation for the Gentiles. The following
are some quotations from it:^ Testament of Zebulun
(p. ii6): "My children, I bid you keep the commands of
the Lord, and show mercy to your neighbours, and have com-
passion towards all, not towards men only, but also
towards beasts." Dan (p. 127): "Love the Lord through all
your life, and one another with a true heart." Joseph
(p. 173): "I was sick, and the Lord visited me; in prison,
and my God showed favor unto me." Benjamin (p. 209):
"For as the sun is not defiled by shining on dung and mire,
but rather drieth up both and driveth away the evil
smell, so also the pure mind, encompassed by the defile-
ments of earth, rather cleanseth them and is not
itself defiled."

I think these quotations are sufficient to prove the high
standard of this book, which was written in the Second Cen-
tury B. c, and from which the New Testament authors copi-
ously borrowed.

1 The references being to the Edition by R. H. Charles (1907).


The other point has to do with my statement at the be-
ginning of this chapter that two of the main 'characteristics'
of Christianity were its insistence on (a) a tendency
towards renunciation of the world, and a consequent culti-
vation of a purely spiritual love, and (b) on a morality
whose inspiration was a private sense of duty to God rather
than a public sense of duty to one's neighbor and to society
generally. I think, however, that the last-mentioned
characteristic ought to be viewed in relation to a third, namely,
(c) the extraordinarily democratic tendency of the new
Religion.^ Celsus (a.d. 200) jeered at the early Chris-
tians for their extreme democracy: "It is only the
simpletons, the ignoble, the senseless — slaves and womenfolk
and children — whom they wish to persuade [to join their
churches] or can persuade" — "wool-dressers and cobblers
and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons," and
"whosoever is a sinner, or unintelligent or a fool, in
a word, whoever is god-forsaken ( KaKoSai^wv ) , him the
Kingdom of God will receive."- Thus Celsus, the accom-
plished, clever, philosophic and withal humorous critic,
laughed at the new religionists, and prophesied their speedy
extinction. Nevertheless he was mistaken. There is little
doubt that just the inclusion of women and weaklings
and outcasts did contribute largely to the spread of Chris-
tianity (and Mithraism). It brought hope and a sense of
human dignity to the despised and rejected of the earth.
Of the immense numbers of lesser officials who carried on
the vast organization of the P.oman Empire, most perhaps,
were taken from the ranks of the freedmen and quondam
slaves, drawn from a great variety of races and already

1 It is important to note, however, that this same democratic ten-
dency was very marked in Mithraism. "II est certain," says Cumont,
"qu'il a fait ses premieres conquetes dans les classes inferieures de
la societe, et c'est I'a un fait considerable; le mithracisme est rest6
longtemps la religion des humbles." Mysteres de Mithra, p. 68.

2 See Glover's Conflict of Religions in the early Roman Empire,
ch. viii.


familiar with pagan cults of all kinds — Egyptian, Syrian,
Chaldean, Iranian, and so forth.^ This fact helped to give
to Christianity — under the fine tolerance of the Empire —
its democratic character and also its willingness to accept
all. The rude and menial masses, who had hitherto been
almost beneath the notice of Greek and Roman culture,
flocked in; and though this was doubtless, as time went on,
a source of weakness to the Church, and a cause of dissension
and superstition, yet it was in the inevitable line of human
evolution, and had a psychological basis which I must now
endeavor to explain.

1 See Toutain, Cultes pa'iens, vol. ii, conclusion.



The general drift and meaning of the present book must
now, I think, from many hints scattered in the course of
it, be growing clear. But it will be well perhaps in this chap-
ter, at the risk of some repetition, to bring the whole argu-
ment together. And the argument is that since the dawn
of humanity on the earth — many hundreds of thousands
or perhaps a million years ago — there has been a slow psy-
chologic evolution, a gradual development or refinement of
Consciousness, which at a certain stage has spontaneously
given birth in the human race to the phenomena of religious
belief and religious ritual — these phenomena (whether in
the race at large or in any branch of it) always following,
step by step, a certain order depending on the degrees
of psychologic evolution concerned; and that it is this
general fact which accounts for the strange similarities of
belief and ritual which have been observed all over the world
and in places far remote from each other, and which have been
briefly noted in the preceding chapters.

And the main stages of this psychologic evolution — those
at any rate with which we are here concerned — are Three:
the stage of Simple Consciousness, the stage of Self-
consciousness, and a third Stage which for want of a
better word we may term the stage of Universal Conscious-
ness. Of course these three stages may at some future



time be analyzed into lesser degrees, with useful result —
but at present I only desire to draw attention to them in
the rough, so to speak, to show that it is from them and
from their passage one into another that there has flowed
by a perfectly natural logic and concatenation the strange
panorama of humanity's religious evolution — its supersti-
tions and magic and sacrifices and dancings and ritual gen-
erally, and later its incantations and prophecies, and services
of speech and verse, and paintings and forms of art,
and figures of the gods. A wonderful Panorama indeed,
or poem of the Centuries, or, if you like. World-symphony
with three great leading motives!

And first we have the stage of Simple Consciousness. For
hundreds of centuries (we cannot doubt) Man possessed
a degree of consciousness not radically different from that
of the higher Animals, though probably more quick and
varied. He saw, he heard, he felt, he noted. He acted
or reacted, quickly or slowly, in response to these impressions.
But the consciousness of himself, as a being separate from
his impressions, as separate from his surroundings, had
not yet arisen or taken hold on him. He was an instinctive
part of Nature, And in this respect he was very near to
the Animals. Self-consciousness in the animals, in a
germinal form is there, no doubt, but embedded, so to speak,
in the general world consciousness. It is on this account
that the animals have such a marvellously acute perception
and instinct, being embedded in Nature. And primitive
Man had the same. Also we must, as I have said before,
allow that man in that stage must have had the same sort
of grace and perfection of form and movement as we admire
in the (wild) animals now. It would be quite unreasonable
to suppose that he, the crown in the same sense of creation,
was from the beginning a lame and ill-made abortion. For
a long period the tribes of men, like the tribes of the higher
animals, must have been (on the whole, and allowing


for occasional privations and sufferings and conflicts) well
adapted to their surroundings and harmonious with the
earth and with each other. There must have been
a period resembling a Golden Age — some condition at any
rate which, compared with subsequent miseries, merited the
epithet 'golden.'

It was during this period apparently that the system of
Totems arose. The tribes felt their relationship to their
winged and four footed mates (including also other objects
of nature) so deeply and intensely that they adopted the
latter as their emblems. The pre-civilization Man fairly
worshipped the animals and was proud to be called after
them. Of course we moderns find this strange. We, whose
conceptions of these beautiful creatures are mostly de-
rived from a broken-down cab-horse, or a melancholy
milk-rummaged cow in a sooty field, or a diseased and
despondent lion or eagle at the Zoo, have never even seen
or loved them and have only wondered with our true com-
mercial instinct what profit we could extract from them.
But they, the primitives, loved and admired the animals;
they domesticated many of them by the force of a natural
friendship,^ and accorded them a kind of divinity. This
was the age of tribal solidarity and of a latent sense of soli-
darity with Nature. And the point of it all is (with regard
to the subject we have in hand) that this was also
the age from which by a natural evolution the sense of
Religion came to mankind. If Religion in man is the sense
of ties binding his inner self to the powers of the universe
around him, then it is evident I think that primitive man
as I have described him possessed the reality of this sense
— though so far buried and subconscious that he was hardly
aware of it. It was only later, and with the coming of

* See ch. iv, supra. Tylor in his Primitive Culture (vol. i, p. 469,
edn. 1903) says: "The sense of an absolute psychical distinction be-
tween man and beast, so prevalent in the civilized world, is hardly to
be found among the lower races."


the Second Stage, that this sense began to rise distinctly into

Let us pass then to the Second Stage. There is a moment
in the evolution of a child — somewhere perhaps about the
age of three^ — when the simple almost animal-like con-
sciousness of the babe is troubled by a new element — je//-
consciousness. The change is so marked, so definite, that
(in the depth of the infant's eyes) you can almost see it take
place. So in the evolution of the human race there has
been a period — also marked and definite, though extending
intermittent over a vast interval of time — when on men in
general there dawned the consciousness of themselves,
of their own thoughts and actions. The old simple accept-
ance of sensations and experiences gave place to reflection.
The question arose: "How do these sensations and ex-
periences affect me? What can / do to modify them, to
encourage the pleasurable, to avoid or inhibit the painful,
and so on?" From that moment a new motive was added
to life. The mind revolved round a new centre. It began
to spin like a little eddy round its own axis. It studied
itself first and became deeply concerned about its own
pleasures and pains, losing touch the while with the larger
life which once dominated it — the life of Nature, the life
of the Tribe. The old unity of the spirit, the old solidarity,
were broken up.

I have touched on this subject before, but it is so important
that the reader must excuse repetition. There came an in-
evitable severance, an inevitable period of strife. The
magic mirror of the soul, reflecting nature as heretofore

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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 17 of 25)