James Haughton Woods.

The value of religious facts; a study of some aspects of the science of religion online

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I. The Materials . . . i
II. The Facts of Psychology . 19

III. The Facts of History . . 86

IV. The Values AND THE Standard. 114



Digitized by tine Internet Arciiive

in 2010 with funding from

Boston Public Library


The Value of Religious



THE results of the science of religion
have been confusing and contra-
dictory, chiefly, perhaps, because the
method and object of the researches
have been different. One group of
scholars has investigated what they
deemed religion, meaning thereby the
various cults, standards of life, and
usages which have prevailed in the past,
or prevail to-day, in greater or smaller
communities. Such, for example, are
Mr. Grant Allen's valuable descriptions

2 The Value of Religious Facts

of sacred stakes, and of corpse worship.
Another group, well represented by
Biedermann, from the other extreme
point of view, abstract the common
elements of the psychological concep-
tion of religion, and treat religion
as the subjective attitude of persons
who are members of a common social

The method of the first is high in
favor at the present day. Following in
the way of the natural sciences its
course seems clear; the science of re-
ligion is to build itself upon research
and experiment. Its first task is to
ascertain the common traits of those
phenomena which are grouped under
the term *' religion." Nothing could be
more simple. One forms by induction
a general conception from definite
cases and the result is a clear definition
and a deeper insight.

The Materials 3

The second method is an inductive
analysis and methodical rearrangement
of that which distinguishes religion
from the other facts of the inner life.

How far may these two methods,
the historical and the philosophical, be
made to assist, and not to bewilder
each other ? In the labyrinth of the
changing and the intricately interwoven
religions of history can a common ele-
ment with the subjective religious faith
of to-day be found ? Is there one force
which causes both ? Is there a normal
religion with normal religious experi-
ences and standards of living, and is
there a normal religious faith ?

To begin with the last question, the
method is inductive, and the historical
religions are the object of the experi-

If we try to understand a definite
historical form of reHgion, for ex-

4 The Value of Religious Facts

ample the Egyptian religion, or the
Christian religion in the form of the
Greek Catholic Church, we turn to
funeral inscriptions, ritual papyri, and
to sculpture, or to catechisms, hymns,
and books of devotion. Here is a
mass of ideas in concrete form, a col-
lection of definite statements about
God, world, and men; in addition,
certain rules for will and deed toward
God and men ; finally, in the ceremonies
of worship, rules for certain deeds di-
rectly to God alone.

For contemporary religion this ma-
terial is especially fertile because of its
stability ; for religions of the past, with
the exception of ritual survivals, we
have scarcely any other authoritative
material except in this written or artis-
tic form. The confidence that one
may really understand a religion from
its authoritative books is increased by

The Materials 5

the fact that adherents of later develop-
ments of the same or of allied religions
use them in religious education.

And still if we are in any true sense
to understand historical religion, we
cannot be satisfied with a complex of
ideas or of rules, but must to some de-
gree feel its subjective faith. A re-
ligion lives as far only as it is felt by
living subjects. If we speak with any
accuracy of a religion like the Vedic,
which has no surviving worshipper,
whose sacred writings, however, lie
before us, it is only because they help
us to reconstruct for our imagination
the emotions and the will-acts of the
living men and women who ladled out
the soma and preserved the sacred
flame. The writings meant nothing to
those persons except in so far as they
aroused conviction of the truth of their
teachings about life and man and the

6 The Value of Religious Facts

gods, so far as they subjected the wills
in daily life and in sacred cults, and
sustained a certain emotional tone.
This mass of written rules and ideas
was of course in use for the propaga-
tion of the faith; but the immediate
transference from one individual life to
another within the religious communion
of conviction, of expressions of willing
obedience, of personal feelings, and of
all varieties of mental habits, was a far
more effective means of extending the
faith. And this expression of deepest
religious moods took place often in con-
nection with the written tradition, far
more often quite independently of it.
Any research into a religion must find
the value of these convictions of truth,
these attitudes of will, these fluctuating
shades of emotion. And the experi-
ment will succeed only when the mo-
tives for these states of mind are

The Materials 7

made clear to one's own self as a real,
willing subject.

The object of research, then, in any
historical religion is, in the last analysis,
the complex of peculiar phenomena of
consciousness of the members of that
particular rehgion.

This launches us into incredible dif-
ficulties. The multitude of objects is
countless; the number of the different
religions which exist or no longer exist
is sufficiently large, but the peculiar
psychic states of the members of these
religions even when contemporary were
by no means the same, and in the
course of time passed through a series
of crises. The prevailing moods and
motives of a Christian of the fourth
century were remote from one of the
beginning of the second.

Still the number of cases is not the
difficulty so much as the methods of

8 The Value of Rellg-ious Facts


investigation. And this is the difficulty
of all science of historical human life,
especially of morals, of aesthetical
habits, and of religion.

What is the method of natural sci-
ence ? Given objects are exactly
arranged in relations of quantity and
quality and in causal relations. Any
other attitude than that of an unpre-
judiced spectator who analyzes and
measures, any attempt to penetrate
into an inner meaning of the material,
is unscientific and ridiculous.

For the historian, however, the inner
lives of men are not merely outer ob-
jects, but an object that must in some
degree be reconstructed out of his own
personal feelings. The historian may
actually experience the same feelings
which the given historical persons felt,
or he may imagine these feelings, and
there is no necessity to live through

The Materials 9

the experience in order to understand.
We can put ourselves at the point of
view of the Mohammedan without be-
coming Moslems. We construct within
ourselves a hypothetical experience
such as he would feel in the worship
of Allah. This hypothetical worship
may be described by analogy.

Before a definite will-act committing
us to a course of conduct, a period of
deliberation occurs during which we
construct for ourselves a hypothetical
experience, and discover how we are
likely to feel about it by experiencing
in imagination the attitude we should
take towards it. We anticipate re-
actions of pleasure or of pain, as if
the imagined experience were actually
arousing the emotions and the feel-
ings of effort which make up our self.
Likewise we can live ourselves into the
feelings of others, and especially into

lo The Value of Religious Facts

such psychical states as have been
active in men in history, in the form,
it may be, of a religious life remote
from our own. As a concrete ex-
ample : we can place ourselves in a
mood in which Apollo seems to be
advancing to the twin heights of Par-
nassus. The god of the golden hair is
as clear to us as daylight, the embodi-
ment of the brightness of the Greek
atmosphere and of all that was bril-
liant and joyous and lofty in the Greek
mind. We love to dwell upon the
thought. We enter into it. There are
the laurel leaves upon the brow, the
lyre, and the lips curling with scorn
of all that is vulgar. We wonder, we
give thanks, and, if we are only Greeks,
we cry out that he will save us and
guard our homes from woe, and be
favorable to us, and crown our city
with the honors of the games.

The Materials n

- This is hypothetical worship, lacking
the conviction of the reality of what
we have seen, lacking in impulses which
govern our course of action, lacking in
the kind of pleasure which experiences
of reality bring home to ourselves.

Have we, then, the means to recon-
struct the religious situations of others
as they themselves experienced them ?
We have descriptions of ideas, especially
conceptions of gods, we have descrip-
tions of certain religious acts, and, less
often, descriptions of the motives and
the moods which accompany these
ideas and acts. These last He before
us in all degrees of development, from
the unconscious expressions of jubilant
trust and gratitude in the Delphic
hymns to Apollo to the intricate reflec-
tion of the Psalms and of religious
autobiographies. If we take simple
concrete experiences with little or no

12 The Value of Religious Facts

analysis of feelings bound up with
them, the mere mention of the facts
arouses sympathetic impulses in us.
We can successfully imagine the psy-
chic condition of one who cries for de-
liverance from marauders, from famine,
from loss by fire or by death, of one
who bursts out into thanks for bright
skies, for harvests, for victory, for a
just verdict against tyrants. Our im-
agination feasts upon the details. The
single images group themselves into a
picture. Unconsciously we have taken
attitude with the strange creatures
whose lives are so distant from us.
Similarly, passionate expressions of
sadness or exultation, of indignation or
hope, betray to us inner processes with
which we are almost daily familiar.
Out of our own life we vitalize the
written record.

But we are not limited to a slavish

The Materials 13

repetition of the experiences suggested
in the texts. As we repeat in our-
selves the scene of joy or of depression,
and the feelings which are bound up
with it, our own will-attitude crystal-
lizes about the material, and we com-
pare ours with that of the totemist
or the bacchanal or the Buddhist, as
the case may be. We try to decide
whether this attitude which we have
developed in ourselves adjusts itself to
the other, whether there is any hint of it
there,whether it is not necessary by in-
ference to complete the gaps in the text.
We assume that we are doing our ut-
most to sympathize. When this is im-
possible, we are obliged to interpolate
our feelings in order to understand.

This, then, is the task : to reproduce,
as if real to us, all the ideas which
compose the mental picture present to
the stranger, to repeat in our own im-

14 The Value of Religious Facts

agination all the feelings or will-atti-
tudes which were bound up with this

Out of all this attitude, a mood,
made up of the trust, the hope, the in-
dignation, and the gladness, or what-
ever else, is formed. During the
process we acquire a keen sense of
difference between our own real atti-
tude and that which we are trying to
imitate. As the distinctions are be-
coming clear to us, we ask half uncon-
sciously whether this motive, this tone,
is known to our individual religious life.
In proportion as this comparison is
searching, our own point of view will
be much more definite and the other
will begin to be understood. Real
contrast with new material gives to
ourselves a firmer poise and gives to it
the freshness of life.

Not for a moment is the need of dis-

The Materials 15

passionate historical research forgotten.
This most exact work is indispensable.
Without collection of traditions, edit-
ing of texts, chronology, comparison
of sources, any hope for a scientific re-
sult is folly. But upon this material
the method of imagined repetition of
the experience must be built up, if any
new religious insight is to be required.
This has been accomplished in the most
rigorous manner by Mr. Jevons, by
Professor Oldenberg, Professor Tiele,
and, earlier, by Robertson Smith.
Progress in history of religion at the
present is due not merely to the dis-
covery of papyri and inscribed bricks
and other masses of unexpected docu-
ments, but quite as much to the newly
acquired skill in imagining ourselves on
the spot even with prehistoric savages.
And this we owe very probably to the
poets and the romantic school.

1 6 The Value of Religious Facts

The possibility of error is unavoid-
able. First, in enlivening the histori-
cal data we discover the limitations of
our method. In the definition of phys-
ical objects we have a right to expect
a high degree of precision on account
of the relative stability of the material ;
in the description of psychical life, since
our view of life is estranged from that
of other men, especially those of an-
cient time, security cannot be expected.
Likewise, the interpolation of feeling
into defective descriptions of religious
life is hazardous by reason of the indi-
vidual character of psychic life. A
contradiction apparent to another may
not be plain to me. In the same way,
with regard to comparison of our own
and other religious attitudes, the ten-
dency to distinguish our own, or the
tendency to discover resemblances to
our own in countless other forms of

The Materials 17

worship may either be excessive, or
our own attitude may change and our
conception of other beliefs would also
be in danger of change.

There is, then, no absolute certainty
that we can reproduce religious senti-
ment. One may reduce the chances
of error by approaching the subject
from as many different sides as possi-
ble, from many different moods, and
with more perfect comprehension of
the state of civilization, of the habits
of life, and of the peculiar experiences
of the given case. And gradually one
may compare religions and discover in
what degree they agree with one's own.

Before, however, a discussion of this
kind may be begun with any hope of
a result, we must consider the whole
question : whether we have any right to
assume that religion is an independent
activity, or merely a variation of some

1 8 The Value of Religious Facts

other form of human life ; whether it is
different in kind, touching other activi-
ties but never included in them, or,
rather, a species of morals, or of art, or
of logic, or of any other distinct prov-
ince of life. This brings us very close,
first, to the facts of psychology, and,
later, to the facts of history.



THE very statement of the question,
whether religion is a unique fact,
in the closest connection with all the
rest of human life, or subject to its
own laws and relatively independent of
all other departments of life, arouses
numberless difficulties.

There can be no doubt where the
concentration of difficulties lies. As
the whole argument has implied, the
problem is one of the psychology of
religion and of the history of religion.
The first examines the existence, the
origin, and the significance of religion
in human consciousness. The latter

20 The Value of Religious Facts

gives us the material and searches for
the connection between the isolated
historical facts.

The task of religious psychology is
no longer abstract and individual but
historical and social. The field of view
has widened enormously. The most
heterogeneous and rudimentary re-
ligious states, the least developed rites
and social forms, are eagerly tested.

The psychology of individual states,
— of desire, of intention, of reflection,
of resolve, of emotions of joy and grief,
hope and expectation, of memory and
of imagination ; of the relations be-
tween states, such as attention and
vividness of idea, reflection and feel-
ing; and of the changes of personality
and of abnormal states, — all this is cer-
tainly of the greatest aid to religious
psychology. But it is the psychology
of the social life, — of the psychic proc-

The Facts of Psychology 21

esses of sympathy and aversion, envy,
hatred, reverence, generosity, of friend-
ship and trust, — which has a direct
bearing. Just as there is a psychology
of jurisprudence, of economics, of art,
and of morals, so there is a psychology
of religion.

Such a psychology analyzes the given
psychic conditions, and the result is
clean-cut descriptions of how, for ex-
ample, motives group with certain
intentions, and certain emotions with
certain ideas ; but an abstract construc-
tion of a religion out of psychological
elements is mythological. Good psy-
chology may be made out of a religion,
but no religion was ever patched to-
gether out of discoveries of a labora-

If we strip off all metaphysics and all
prejudice for or against and apply a
rigorous psychological method to a re-

22 The Value of Religious Facts

ligious consciousness, the result of the
analysis is the same for this as for any
other psychical experience, — a mass
of ideas bound up with feelings from
which manifold voluntary impulses
spring. An idea, however simple, is al-
ways the starting-point, accompanied
I by feelings and ambitions which react
I upon the idea. The religions are com-
plicated forms of these same elements.
In all forms of real consciousness we
find the simple sensations, with feelings
of pleasure and pain, and will-attitudes,
developing into countless complica-
tions. From these elements the con-
scious life is built. The sensations are
connected in complex conceptions, the
I feelings and will-impulses develop into
I permanent dispositions and characters.
Intellect and will, the ability to be
aware of objects, and the ability to re-
act upon these objects with feelings

The Facts of Psychology 23

and impulses, are, then, the elements of
religion, and they are always found
together. Religions are complicated
forms of ideas with intricate emotions
and volitions. The content of these
ideas may be enormously different, and
the emotions and volitions endless in

But there is a constant element.
And this remains. This idea is always
of superhuman realities to which rever-
ence is due, and these ideas, accom-
panied by powerful emotions, result in
actions, in ceremonies, in social usages, |
or in morality. By traditions, by cus-\
tom, by expanding authority, this psy-
chical complex rules groups of human
beings and crystallizes in social organi-

The question naturally arises, whence
is this idea and these accompanying
states of mind ? A deeper knowledge

24 The Value of Religious Facts

of the inner structure of life is neces-
sary, if one is to fix more definitely the
seat of the religious experience. Not
that there are facuhies, or powers, or
any such abstractions. It is the whole
soul that is active, but active on differ-
ent material and with different relations
of the functions which combine into
the attitude of will.

In the first place, then, the religious
experience is not the co-ordinating
functions which are always more or less
active, even, very probably, subcon-
scious states. These activities are by
no means the same as the actual con-
tents of the soul. The most important
of these are the logical connection of
ideas, according to the laws of contra-
diction and of sufficient reason, and
the associative connection of ideas in
memory and imagination.

Logic arranges the given material.

The Facts of Psychology 25

but never produces the contents of
consciousness. In all its forms the
constant element is the strife for the
feeling that certain contents belong
together, the strife for consistency and

But since the material of logic is an
exceedingly small section of the whole
of reality, and since even this material)
is restless in movement and transforma-
tion, the logical activity never comes
to the complete whole and never comes
to rest.

In spite of this the struggle for unity
persists. One who clings to isolated
facts or to certain keen impressions
without effort to compare them with
other facts or feelings is condemned as
a narrow thinker or a sentimentalist.
Another, who will not face details, but
rushes to conclusions for the sake of
generalizations, is one-sidedly intellec-

26 The Value of Religious Facts

tual. Thought is productive when it
is compelled to postulate a higher
unity, not given directly in experience,
which will include the single, isolated
items of concrete life. These postu-
lates are empirically verifiable or stand
in permanent relation to some one of
the great meanings of life. Thus the
religious idea has often been analyzed
as the result of a similar postulate, as
the impulse to assume a single cause of

As a matter of fact, no known re-
ligion has arisen in this manner. Re-
ligion is what it is, not because it
satisfies logical postulates, but because
of its own peculiar value, and its close
connection with all the ideal signifi-
cance of reality, with the higher emo-
tions, and with the sense of an infinite
reality higher than what is human.

All the geniuses of religious history

The Facts of Psychology 27

have troubled themselves precious lit-
tle about unity and sufficient reason.
They have lived in an immediate ex-
perience, and in indifference to such

Naturally the religious idea, when
once actually presented, satisfies the
need of a cause, or promises a final
satisfaction. But it is incredible that
the bare idea of a cause could generate
a great religion or could even furnish
the germ of more than a temporary and
provisional individual religious mood.
Logical thinking is important enough
for a conception of reality and for a
conception of religious life, but it is
never its origin.

It is a law of associative memory that
a feeling which has been aroused by a
certain cause may call forth a similar
or contrasted idea or one merely acci-
dental connected with it, which it has

28 The Value of Religious Facts

as its occasion. Thirst recalls the idea
of the last refreshing drink. An enor-
mous part of the inner life runs on in
this way, dreaming, hoping, or dreading
— ideas which correspond to no reality.
Religion has been explained as the
idea of a force similar to, but more
effective than, human powers, which
can free us from evils, as one man
helps another. The awakening of all
varieties of feeling of the need of such
a Power could only intensify and ex-
tend the idea.

This attempt at explanation which
brings religion into the closest intimacy
with the emotional life of man, and
therefore nearer to his real self, is cer-
tainly much less inaccurate than the
previous attempt.

AH that need be stated here is, that
the statements of all genuine religions
about themselves completely contra-

The Facts of Psychology 29

diet this theory. Possibly in the most
primitive forms it may be valid. But
their origin eludes historical research.
The question now is whether, accord-
ing to those who speak of what they
experience, religion is one of the im-
mediate and most real contents of the
inner life.

Another explanation of religion by
the laws of association deserves atten-
tion. The imagination is not only the
stream of all sorts of associated pres-
entations, but also the expression of
the ideal significance of experience to
the will in certain perceptible impres-
sions and forms. All human thinking,
speaking, and acting is bound up with
these sensuous forms, and in connec-
tion with such forms only is there any
experience at all.

Thus the picture, which has served
as a medium in which the meaning was

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Online LibraryJames Haughton WoodsThe value of religious facts; a study of some aspects of the science of religion → online text (page 1 of 6)