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be art. What is made for the market is not meant to
embody ideal truth. And so the artisan is no artist, is
imitative, not imaginative, a copyist, not a creator. The
Phoenician, too industrial to be ideal, dreamed not of
the art that could make the dumb stone the imperish-
able expression of things unseen.

* Renan, "Mission de Ph^nicie," p. 825. t ii. 44.



The rise of the first Semitic civilizations, sensuous
and un-ideal as they were, was a decisive event in the
history of man. What the Turanian had begun the
Semite carried 'forward, and passed on to the Indo-
European. Greece received the ideal and spiritual ele-
ments the East had to give, assimilated, transfigured,
and then embodied them in the perfect forms she alone
had the genius to create. Greece idealized, exalted
the individual, made man conscious of the glory of
manhood. She gave us our models and ideals of the
beautiful, interpreted for us man and nature as they
exist to the imagination. " In its poets and orators, its
historians and philosophers," says Hegel,* "Greece
cannot be conceived from a central point, unless one
brings, as a key to the understanding of it, an insight
into the ideal forms of sculpture, and regards the images
of statesmen and philosophers, as well as epic and
dramatic heroes, from the artistic point of view ; for.
those who act, as well as those who create and think,
have in those beautiful days of Greece this plastic char-
acter. They are great and free, and have grown up on
the soil of their own individuality, creating themselves
out of themselves, and moulding themselves to what
they were and willed to be. The age of Perikles was
rich in such characters : Perikles himself, Pheidias, Plato,
above all Sophokles, Thukydides also, Xenophon and
Sokrates, each in his own order, without the perfection
of one being diminished by that of others. They are
ideal artists of themselves, cast each in one flawless
mould — works of art which stand before us as an
immortal presentment of the gods."

* " iEsthetik," vol. ii. p. 377. The translation here given is Mr
Pater's " Studies in the Hist of the Renaissance," 192.


While Greece perfected the free, individual, and ideal
elements in the ancient civilizations, Rome perfected the
political. If the first was the heir of Egypt, Babylon,
and Phoenicia, the second was the heir of Assyria.
Rome deified law, embodied authority and justice, re-
alized political unity. A Roman has described for us
her mission, and great as he conceives it to have been
we may well allow that it was still greater.

" Excudent alii spirantia mollius aera,
Credo equidem, vivos ducent de marmore voltus;
Orabunt causas melius, ccElique meatus
Describent radio, et surgentia sidera dicent :
Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento ;
Hae tibi erunt artes ; pacisque imponere morem,
Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos."*

We can follow our subject no further. Enough has
been written to show the relation of ancient and modern
.civilization, of the people to the culture it creates. Here,
as elsewhere, the first shall be last and the last first.
The peoples earliest were not the most perfectly civilized.
Many nations had to rise and fall before the elements of
a rich and many-sided social being were evolved. And
the more varied its elements the more permanent will be
its existence. The early eminence of the Greeks had,
perhaps, much to do with their premature decay. The
greater strength of Rome might be due in part to her
slower and more concentrated growth. The peoples
most distant from the ancient cultures have not lost by
having been the last to be civilized. They were more
mature when touched by the cultured peoples and the
culture that touched them was richer, more plastic and

♦ '♦ iEneid," vi. 848-894.

THE RACES IN civilization: 26 1

powerful. And now they, too, are working for the
future, helping to form the men that are to be. " Gen-
erations are as the Days of toilsome mankind ; Death
and Birth are the vesper and the matin bells that sum-
mon Mankind to sleep, and to rise refreshed for new
advancement. What the father has made the son can
make and enjoy ; but has also work of his own appointed
him. Thus all things wax and roll onwards ; arts, estab-
lishments, opinions, nothing is completed, but ever com-
pleting Find Mankind where thou wilt,

thou findest it in living movement, in progress faster or
slower : the Phoenix soars aloft, hovers with outstreched
wings, filling Earth with her music ; or, as now, she
sinks, and with spheral swan-song immolates herself in
flame, that she may soar the higher and sing the clear-

* Carlyle, " Sartor Resartus," bk. iii. chap. viL





Ty^ /"HILE the collective human race has been as a rule
religious, Man has exhibited in his religions every
variety of type and degree of difference lying between
the rudest Fetichism and the most refined and abstract
Monotheism. They have embodied ideas at once so
antithetic and akin, that religion can be made a point
specifically distinguishing savage from civilized races, or
a generic characteristic of man as man. Here the
object of worship is a stone, or tree, or rude charm ;
there, the high and holy One who inhabiteth eternity.
In one place the worship has been glad and lightsome,
has loved the festive garland, the mystic dance, and the
exultant hymn ; in another it has been fearful and
sombre, seeking by pain and penance, by human or animal
sacrifices, to propitiate angry deities. Now it has been
a simple act of devotion which the patriarch or father
could perform, and again, an extensive and burdensome
ceremonial, sacred and significant in the minutest par-
ticulars, which an initiated and consecrated priest was
needed to celebrate. Sometimes the simplicity has
been carried so far as to seem Atheism to a foreigner
accustomed to a more elaborate ritual. At others, the
ceremonialism has determined the very social and polit-
ical constitution, and made the nation appear not so


much a people with a priesthood as a priesthood with a
people. The varieties are so many, tliat classification is
here peculiarly difficult, and the difficulty is increased by
inquirers failing to agree on a principle of division. The
theologian, ethnographer, comparative mythologist, his-
torian of opinion, has each a classification suited to his
own province, inapplicable to any other. Only one thing
is clear — Religion is as universal as man, but as varied
in type as the races and nations of men.*

The universality admits of but one explanation — the
universal is the necessary. What man has everywhere
done, he could not but do. His nature is creative of
religion, is possessed of faculties that make him relig-
ious. Religion is not an invention or discovery, but a
product or deposit, a growth from roots fixed deep in
human nature, springing up and expanding according
to necessary laws. No one discovered sight, or invented
hearing. Man saw because he had eyes, heard because
he had ears : the sense created the sensations. Lan-
guage, too, is neither a discovery nor an invention. It
grew, and man was hardly conscious of its growth ; grew
out of the physical ability to utter sounds, and the men-
tal capacity to think thoughts which, as allied, we term
the faculty of speech. And so religion is the fruit of
faculties given in our nature, spontaneously acting.
Hence man gets into religion as into other natural
things, the use of his senses, his mother tongue, without
conscious effort ; but to get out of it he has to use art,
to reason himself into an attitude of watchful antagon-
ism at once to the tendencies and actions of his own
nature, and to ancient and general beliefs. No man is

* Waitz, "Anthropology," vol. i. pp. 277 ff. (Eng. trans.). Ty-
ler's *' Primitive Culture," vol. i. 378 ff.


an atheist by nature or birth, only by artifice and educa-
tion, and art when it vanquishes nature is not always a
victor. The world has before now seen a mind which
had cast out religion as worship of God, introduce a re-
ligion which worshipped man, or rather, idolized the
memory of a woman.

Religion, then, as natural, is universal — as universal
as the natures which deposit and realize it. But the
ver}' reason of its universality explains its varieties. The
creative natures are, while everywhere existing, every-
where varied. Minds, while akin as minds, are variously
conditioned and endowed. Man, wherever he thinks
and acts, must think and act as man, obedient to the
laws built, as it were, into his very nature ; but his power
to think and act may exhibit the utmost differences of
quality and degree. What is true of the individuals
composing a nation is also true of the nations compos-
ing the race. In the early ages, too, when states and
religion were being formed, there was nothing to tone
down, everything to emphasize, local or family peculi-
arities. Mind was not cosmopolitan, but national or
tribal, and narrowed whatever it created or received to
its own sphere. Hence, the only religions it knew were,
not like the modern, universal, but tribal or national, as
distinctive of a people as its language or its laws. This
limitation and isolation could not but produce variety
in faith and worship, make the religion the mirror of
the family mind in all its faculties and phases. The
distinctive genius of a race is always, indeed, liable to
be weakened or intensified by the rise of new, or a
change in the old, conditions. The family or tribe may
either absorb or be absorbed into other families or
tribes, and the intermixture may result in a new correl-


ation of faculties and ideas, acts and objects of worship,
such as is shown us by the peoples who settled in the
Mesopotamian valley, and founded the empires that
successively rose there. A change in geographical po-
sition may modify the physical and psychical qualities
of a people, and create a new order of thought, and a
new set of institutions, just as the Aryans in India de-
veloped as immigrants and conquerors religious and
social systems, which, while originally like, were in
their final form generically unlike, other Indo-European
religions and polities. Intercourse with friendly peoples
may introduce varieties of belief and worship, like those
Bacchic and other frenzied rites the commerce with
Phoenicia introduced into the calm and beautiful natur-
alism of Greece. But while such changes and relations
may qualify and complicate, they do not nullify the ac-
tion of the national mind. Its action, expulsive, assim-
ilative, or evolutionary, goes on modifying the old,
incorporating the foreign, educing or producing the new,
and can cease only with the life of the people. The
interaction of the living intellect and living faith is con-
tinual, every change in the one being answered by a
corresponding change in the other.

What may be termed religious faculty, or genius, has
been the characteristic endowment of certain peoples.
The Semitic and Indo-European families have been in
this, as in ever)' other respect, highly, though not equal-
ly, gifted. The former has been in religion the more
creative and conservative, the latter the more receptive
and progressive race. The Hebrew faith, in its earlier
Mosaic and latter Judaic phases, Christianity and Islam,
are of Semitic origin ; Zoroastrism, Brahmanism, and
Buddhism, of Indo-European. But however splendid


these creations, they by no means exhaust the productive
religious genius of the two families. Many other
growths have lived and died, leaving in the successive
strata that mark the rise and fall of nations, remains,
now gigantic and legible, and again, minute and hardly
decipherable. But the very least of the dead have con-
tributed to develop the living. The great religions of
the world are like great rivers, springing from small
and distant sources, swollen in their course by many a
streamlet, sometimes enlarged by the confluence of
another far-travelled river, and then flowing on in
grander volume under a new name. No race can claim
a true world-religion as its own exclusive creation.
Though Christianity rose in the Semitic, it has been
made what it is by the Indo-European family. The
stream that eighteen centuries since started from its ob-
scure source in Galilee was very unlike the river that
now waters the many lands peopled by the Teutonic
and Latin races. Every nation which has embraced
Christianity has contributed to its growth. Race and
religion have continued reciprocal in their action. Con-
version has here been mutual, the mind modifying the
very object which changed it.

The Hebrews may stand as the highest example of
the Semitic religious genius, especially in its creative
form. They were as a nation always insignificant,
indeed almost politically impotent. Their country was
small, little larger at its best than a fourth of England,
and its sea-board was almost always held by tribes either
hostile or independent. Their history was a perpetual
struggle for national existence, first against the native
tribes, then against foreign empires. Egypt, Chaldaea,
Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome, were successively


either their masters or protectors, and their often
threatened national existence was at last trampled out
by the legions of Titus and Hadrian, and themselves
sent to wander over the earth as a strange example of
a destroyed nation but an indestructible people. With-
out the commercial or colonizing energy of their
Phoenician kinsmen, without the architectural genius
and patient industry which built the monuments and
cities of Egypt, without the ambition and courage which
raised their Assyrian brethren to empire and a sov-
ereign civilization, without the poetic and speculative
genius -of the Greeks, without the martial and political
capacity of the Romans, the politically unimportant and
despised Hebrews have excelled these gifted nations,
singly and combined, in religious faculty and in the
power exercised through religion on mankind. The
Book which has been incontestably the mightiest in the
world for good is the Book which embodies the religious
thoughts and aspirations, faith and hopes, of this
ancient and in other respects almost despicable people.
The Hindus are our own kinsmen. The blood in their
veins was as pure Indo-European as ours, perhaps much
purer, when on the banks of the Indus or the Sarasvati
they sang their old Vedic hymns. But these hymns
can never be to us or our sons what the Psalms of the
Semitic Hebrews have been for centuries to the
noblest Indo-European nations. No Aryan faith was
more spiritual or exalted than the Zoroastrian, but
while Moses and the Prophets have been living
religious forces, studied and revered alike by the
simplest and most cultured intellects of the West, the
Avesta ceased ages since to be a religious power, save
to a scattered remnant of its ancient people, and is now


only a study for a few scholars curious as to the
religions and languages of mankind. In that Hebrew
Literature, which has become the sacred literature of
our most civilized races, and made the very blood and
bone of their religious life, there must be something
profoundly 'universal and quickening, which finds and
satisfies the deepest spiritual wants of man. Perhaps
the wheel of time never brought about a more ironical
or more splendid revenge. Egypt is like her own
sphinx, a broken and decaying riddle half buried in a
wilderness of sand. The stately pride and power of
Assyria lie buried under the mounds that mark . where
her cities once stood. Greece is living Greece no
more, and Rome a strange scene of religious imbecility
and confusion, political anarchy and incompleteness.
But Israel, transformed indeed and re-named, but in all
that constituted its essence and right to existence, Israel
still lives in and guides the conscience of Christendom.
So grandly have the weak things of the world confound-
ed the things that were mighty.

There has been more variety of religious genius in
the Indo-European than in the Semitic family. It has
exhibited indeed a single generic type, but with many
specific differences. As the finest example of religious
genius this family affords, the Teutonic peoples may be
selected, though their action in the religious province
has not been so much creative as receptive. The
Teuton has indeed been in some respects more religious
than the Hebrew. His religious life has not been so
concentrated and stern, has been more diffused and
genial, but for this very reason it has blossomed into a
broader and sweeter and more human culture. And so
Teutonic has not been like Judaic religion, iconoclastic.


but has loved the Fine Arts, Music and Poetry, Archi-
tecture and Painting, has not been conservative and
race-bound, but progressive and missionar3\ The
Teutonic peoples have in their energies and enterprises,
wars and ambitions, been governed by ideals, have,
because inspired by these, led the van of the world's
intellectual progress, fought the battles of freedom, and
carried light and culture and commerce to the savage
races of the earth. And so, while they have not, like
the Hebrews, created a religion, they have been created
by one. The Christianity they received they have so
assimilated as to become its noblest representatives.

The Chinese, again, may be selected as a contrast to
the Hebrew and the Teuton. They stand, indeed, out-
side the two families with which we are here concerned,
and are noticed simply as a people singularly deficient
in religious faculty. Their countr}^ is extensive and
rich, almost inexhaustible in fertility and mineral
wealth. They are a gifted race, ingenious, inventive
yet imitative, patient, industrious, frugal. Their
civilization is ancient, their literary capacity considera-
ble, their classics receive an almost religious reverence.
But this people has a so attenuated religious faculty or
genius, that it can hardly be said ever to have known
religion, at least as Semitic and Indo European peoples
understand it. Their notions of deity are so formless
and fluid that it can be argued, just as one interprets
their speech, either that they are theists or atheists.
They reverence humanity as typified, not in the endless
promise and hope of the future, but in the completed
characters and achievements of the past. Their piety
is filial, their worship ancestral. There are, indeed,
three established religions; but, not to speak of an



advice to have nothing to do with an}'- one of them
given by a late emperor to his people, two would
hardly be classed as such in any other country than
China, while the third is a religion imported from India,
and so depraved by the change that the Buddhism of
the civilized Chinese stands between that of Tartary
and Thibet. And so this gifted race, deprived of the
ideals that could alone urge it forward, has for centuries
moved in a cycle which gave movement without
progress, and has, by turning back to a dead worship
of a dead past, ceased to advance along the not always
straight line which offers alike to the individual and the
nation the only path to perfection.

The form under which the religious faculty or genius
of a people works is twofold, the diffused and the
concentrated, as a tendency common to the collective
nation, or as a force embodied in a great personality.
The one represents the faculty in its stationary and con-
servative, the other in its reformatory and progressive
action. Religions are never changed or reformed by
the collective and involuntary, but by the individual and
conscious will. The people without a great religious
personality is without distinctive religious genius, there-
fore, without a great religion, can only develop one rel-
ative, particular, exclusive, that may grow with the
national greatness, but is certain to participate in its
decay and death. Only where the genius is personalized
can it become creative of a religion able to transcend
the limits of race. The old sublime faith of Iran, which
gave to Judaism some of its finest moral and spiritual
elements, sprang from Zoroaster. The Hindu Sakya
Muni created the religion that seems like the blackness
of despair to us, yet has helped so many millions of


Aryan and Turanian men to struggle through self-denial
to annihilation. At the source of Judaism stands the
majestic form of Abraham, and the most splendid series
of religious personalities known to history, some name-
less, some named, like Moses and Elijah, Isaiah and
Jeremiah, binds him to Jesus. Christianity has its
Christ, Islam its Mahomet. Neither Jahveh nor Allah
can live in human faith without his prophet. In lands
where the prophet was unknown, or his voice unheard,
the religions have been local, national, such as the
genius of Greece might adorn but could not vivify, the
power of Rome exalt but not universalize.

We are not here concerned with any question as to
the origin of religion or religious ideas. Were we, our
first work would be to analyze and define the religious
faculty. To do so would be to raise some of the deepest
philosophical and psychological questions. Is it a
simple or complex faculty? Does it reach its object by
intuition, or does it proceed by induction ? To what
extent and in what order does it call into exercise or
stand rooted in the conscience, or the emotions, or the
intellect, severally or collectively? In other words,
does religion proceed from the dictates of the practical
reason, a feeling of dependence, or an act of the intel-
lect searching after a first or final cause ? These are,
indeed, fundamental problems in the philosophy of re-
ligion, but they belong to an earlier stage than the one
we are now concerned with. Our purpose is not to
inquire as to the origin of our religious ideas, but to
study the action and products of the religious faculty in
our two races, to exhibit, on the one hand, their distinc-
tive religious conceptions, and, on the other, the elements
or principles they contribute to a Catholic and universal


It is, perhaps, better in this connection to discover
and exhibit the differences than to inquire into their
causes. These may become more apparent when our
inquiry is further advanced, and is concerned with the
interpretative and constructive thought of the two races.
M. Renan tried, indeed, to solve the psychological prob-
lem by attributing to the Semites a monotheistic instinct,
which a nomadic life in the monotonous Syrian and
Arabian deserts had evoked in certain branches and
intensified into a monotheistic enthusiasm. This instinct
not only explained their character, but defined their
mission. They existed to create monotheism. Their
genius was monotonous as well as monotheistic, loved
the simple, hated the manifold, was anti-mythological,
intolerant, incurious, and therefore unscientific. Sim-
plicity, the antithesis of the Indo-European variety,
epitomized the Semitic character. Their instinct was
not genius. Monotheism was as it were the minimum
of religion, the creation of a people that had few re-
ligious needs.*

Now, the word instinct explains nothing, needs to be
itself explained. In a scientific discussion it is no reason,
only an apology for one. And here the psychology was
not simply bad, but useless, was used to explain a thing
that did not exist. Scholars affirmed and proved poly-
theistic tendencies in all the branches of the race ; so
strong, indeed, in the very branch which gave mono-
theism to the world as to involve it in ceaseless conflicts.
Yet there was this much truth in the picture — Mono-

* M. Kenan's " Histoire des Langues Semitiques," liv. i. ch. i. ;
liv. V. ch. ii. § vi. Also " Nouvelles Considerations sur le Carac-
t^re Ge'ne'r. des Peuples Semit.," " Tournal Asiatique," xiii., 5th
series, pp. 214-282; 417-460.


theism was the creation of the Semitic genius, the finest
blossom of its spirit. Nothing was more alien to the
Indo-European mind. The unities it groped after and
reached were not personal, but abstract conceptions,
metaphysical like the Brahma of India, or ethical like

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Online LibraryAndrew Martin FairbairnStudies in the philosophy of religion and the history → online text (page 19 of 25)