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to resist this demon of devil-Avater, which is more
powerful than all his ancestral ghosts. In fact, he
does not know the meanino- of moral control ag-ainst
such a foe, and can see no good reason why he
should not indulge in a daily carouse. He has sat
by his chief's pombe-pot for hours and hours, and,
beyond a slight drowsiness, felt no other ill-effects,
and he does not understand why he should restrict
himself to a limited measure of the drink provided
by his friend the white man, whose commerce is to
elevate him to take his place in the comity of
nations. The evil is done, and the man who visits
the factory adds one more life to the victims which
must be slain that our commerce may extend, and an
outlet be found for our surjolus stock of bad spirits.

Nor is this all. The traffic that is carried on with
drink as the medium of barter has far reaching effects
beyond the moral deterioration of the native races.
For rum a man will part with all he possesses, and
the tribe where the trade is introduced is speedily
reduced to beggary. This puts an end to profits, for
there is nothing to exchange for our commodities.
Where there was a roaring' trade and men con-
gratulated themselves on the advent of prosperous
times, the fountains of supply suddenly dry up, and
the only evidence of European influence left is moral
ruin — this and a few blackened brick walls. It
is the old nurserv fable of the g-oose that laid the
golden Qgg, only in Africa it is no fable but stern fact.

But ruin apart, and admitting trade to be carried



REFORMS 219

on in the most approved manner with useful goods
and ornamental articles, is savage man likely to be
improved by it to the extent the advocates of this
exclusive gospel of commerce seem to expect ?
There is a distinct limit to the influence the glitter of
beads and even cotton loincloths have. The former
please only till thev become common ; the latter,
though an undoubted improvement upon bark cloth,
is but an indifferent substitute for a comfortable skin
garment, while it is less durable. As to industry
prospering to a large extent under present condi-
tions, every man who knows Africa knows that is
impossible. To suppose that there is a moral virtue
in European garments, or in elaborate clothing of
any kind, as compared with a scanty covering of bark
cloth or skin, is to make the same mistake as was
made by the Government of the good King George,
wdien they concluded there must be a connection
between loyalty and In-eeches, and so put the High-
landers in trews by Act of Parliament.

So far as our knowledge of African peoples goes,
the kind and amount of clothing worn does not seem
to have any influence on public morals. The
Waganda clothe from head to foot, and put a man
to death if he walks about naked in a public place,
liut their morality is very low, and offences against
the Seventh Commandment are common every-
where*. The Baris go almost naked, and they are
in no way noted for immodesty, but rather the
opposite. The Gowane are exceptionally well clad,
but this does not prevent their having a custom that

* P'elkin.



2 20 RELIGION AND MYTH

a girl may not maiTy till she has borne a child. The
paternity of this child is not inquired into. That is
her own affair, and the husband has nothing to do
with it. The child is sold as a slave. Among the
Dyoor, with their scanty aprons, hardly equal to fig
leaves, domestic affection is very marked, and the
Bongo, who wear little clothing beyond a tail hang-
ing down behind, limit their men to a maximum of
three wives, a rare virtue in Africa.

It seems then that the gospel of cloth is not likely
to raise the African to a perceptibly higher level
than he is at present, if it be not accompanied by
other influences moi-e real and lasting, even if these
cannot be measured out in fathoms or weighed by
pounds avoirdupois.

And it is those other influences which in the
ultimate result go to widen the market for European
commodities, and to make the demand steady and
sustained. Provinces which have been brought
under a measure of Christian influence are our best
customers. Every man who discards the savage
life has wants which only civilised men can supply.
These multiply as Christianity spreads, and when
it has gained something more than toleration for
itself, the influence it has upon the community is in
proportion to the general appreciation of the changed
conditions. The newly created wants develop new
industries, and these go to build up the general
prosperity of the community. This is not merely
speculative opinion as to what we might expect, but
a fact which has again and again been verified, and
of which Basutoland is a conspicuous example.



REFORMS 231

But there is the great gospel of work. Teach the
African to work ; compel him to labour, and then
the products of his country will flow^ into our M^are-
houses, iron and coffee, rubber and coal, copper and
cotton, nuts and oils, all valuable products which lie
ready to his hand if he would only believe the gospel —
of work. It is of no consequence that his wants are
few, and that he can supply them with little labour ;
that he neither knows our luxuries nor desires to
become acquainted with them. If he onlv takes
to labour as the love of his soul, all these things will
adjust themselves to our satisfaction and his own
benefit. His soil has the habit of yielding crops
with little labour and hardly any tillage, but this is
onlv the e'reater reason whv he should be tauo-ht the
dignity of steady agricultural labour. And when
the land is barren ; where rain seldom falls and
crops cannot be grown except in a few favoured
spots — well, make him work ; give him a spade and
teach him to till the land. The sober truth is that
this gospel of work taken by itself is arrant nonsense.
Men must have a motive for work before thev exert
themselves, and when that is present no people fail
to respond to the calls of duty. The Ancient
Greeks worked and that to some purpose, but they
were the most civilised people in the world, and
worked in response to the ideas which were current
among them. Englishmen work, and so do
Americans, but do Englishmen manufacture cloth
simply because they have the spinning and
weaving instinct ? Do they refrain from build-
ino' baths such as the Romans built because the



2 22 RELIGION AND MYTH

architectural instinct is Ivin*^ dormant ? Do they
not manufacture because of an ulterior motive, the
accumulation of wealth ? And are not our cities
without such baths as the Ancients had, simply
because we do not wash so often, and there is not
the same demand for them ? These things we do,
and refrain from doing, not from any instincts or
love of work for its own sake, but l3ecause it suits
our purposes so to act.

So the African can and does work when there is
an adequate motive to spur him on. He can labour
for Europeans when such labour is within his reach,
and when he sees that he can procure what is of
value in his eyes with the product of his labour. He
can produce articles of commerce when these can
be disposed of to advantage. But suppose the
Waganda, in obedience to the call to work, produce
thousands of tons of surplus grain annually, will
their labour benefit either Europe or Africa ? Cer-
tainly not. It will simply rot, and even Waganda
are not mad enough for that. Or, if Mr. Stanley's
pigmies collect ground-nuts by the ton ; what next ?
Is each little man to walk a thousand miles, carry-
inof three or four nuts, worth about a o-roat, to
market, and run the risk of being eaten for his
pains ? Should the Baralongs produce iron to build
a fleet, what is to become of it ? Or of the ships
should they build them ? Lie on the stocks by the
edofe of the forest waitino^ for a second Noah's
Deluge to float them ? When we talk of the African
beinof tauofht to work, our ideas somehow run alonof

OCT' O

the coast line, and apply not so much to Africa as



REFORMS 223

such as to Africa in relation to our own commerce
and profit. We forget that we labour because power-
ful motives impel us, and that these motives are
within ; the result of thought, and our appreciation
of the true proportions of things. Such motives are
absent in Africa, and the intelligence to understand
as we do is absent. That we must first supply. I
once asked a steady and active farm-labourer if he
was fond of work, when the following colloquy took
place.

" I likes master weel enow, and tha'es geye guid
neeps."

"Yes," I replied; "but do you like just to be
at work, because you do not want to sit at home ; to
get up in the morning and come out to the field."

" We's never axed, we hae our oors o' wark,"
was his laconic reply. No farther information was
to be had, so T bid my friend good morning, and
tried a group of women working in the next field
with even more disappointing results. Would
a nation of such men practise all the industrial
virtues the gospel of work expects, nay, demands in
the African ? Before men exert themselves in
industrial work they must realise that by such
means it is possible for them to advance in domestic
comfort, political importance, and national wealth.
And they must have an understanding that these
are desirable things to possess. In the case of the
African this last question is an important one. Does
he know or understand a condition of domestic
comfort higher than being allowed to live at peace
and cultivate his fields ? Do his ideas of political



2 24 EELIGIOX AND MYTH

importance go beyond his tribe being in a j^osition
to make raids with safety and success upon his
neighbours ? And as for national wealth, when that
consists of cattle liable to be stolen or driven awav
wholesale before his very eyes, he is not likely to
exert himself, as is demanded of him, to increase their
number. Only after a long preliminary training,
extendinof over several o-enerations, will men livinp-
in primitive simplicity understand the value of
labour as civilised men have learned to under-
stand it.

Thought has always preceded material improve-
ments, and these have often come halting centuries
behind. The man who gave birth to the new
thought saw his contemporaries despise his wisdom,
while they looked upon himself as a fanatic or mad-
man. Seventy years ago it was proposed to fertilise
soil by means of electricity. The project was turned
to ridicule by a practical farmer who described the
process as " muckin' the Ian' wi' thunner." It is
now admitted tardily that there was truth in the
thinker's idea, though he did not understand much
of the practical mysteries of" muckin' Ian'." At the
present day the gospel of work is to the African
simply " muckin' the Ian' wi' thunner."

Another method for the elevation of the savao-e is
to send him the Bible, or in other words to preach to
him the doctrines of the various European Churches,
using the Bible as an authoritative text-book from
which there can be no ajipeal, and whose everv
precept must be accepted once for all on pain of
Heaven's displeasure. " Teach him," say they, " the



REFORMS 225

Word of God and leave it to work its own purposes.
It is the leaven, the only leaven, that can affect for
good the whole lump of heathenism." Let it be
candidly admitted that such statements contain
important truth. Let not the place occupied by
Holy Scripture in the moral and spiritual elevation
of mankind be minimised or disparaged. It is the
only objective revelation of God we have, and the
experience of two thousand years has shown it to
be adapted to the needs of the human conscience.
What philosophy failed to do has been done by
the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth ; teaching at
once so simple and sublime that no other has ever
approached it. It stands unrivalled among all
systems as He stands peerless among men. In
any attempt made to raise men to a higher and
purer life, the Gospel, in the full catholic sense,
must ever be the chief factor. Without it civilisa-
tion lacks the most powerful of motives, and is apt
to be but a thin veneer hiding unsightly rents and
scars. But though the statement contains an im-
portant truth, it is not the whole truth. It is
true, no doubt, we have the Apostles who preached
the doctrines of the Gospel in their entirety, and
insisted on an immediate and full acknowledgment
of their lofty claim. Nor did they, to any con-
siderable extent, insist on other branches of know-
ledo-e. These were, however, assumed. But wath
all this, few of their converts reached the ideal of
the Christian life as the Apostles understood it,
and as it is accepted in modern times.

Then the Apostles addressed, not primitive men



2 26 RELIGION AND MYTH

still in the shackles of barbarism, but the most
advanced and cultured peoples on the face of the
earth. The Jews had a unique history and
experiences, and the lofty morality taught by their
prophets put them in a position to understand, even
if they did not appreciate, apostolic doctrines and
the purity of life demanded by the teaching of the
founder of Christianity. They were widely scat-
tered throughout the East. Their sacred books
were known everywhere, and thus the Apostles had
the nucleus of an attentive congregation wherever
they went. They invariably entered into the
Jewish synagogue on their arrival in a strange
town.

There they found an audience already familiar
with prophetic revelation, and eagerly waiting for
a farther development of it. No Jew regarded
Old Testament Scripture as having reached finality.
They were, besides, saturated with the civilisation of
the East. A long captivity made them familiar
with Babylonian astronomy. It gave them that
taste for trade and finance which is still charac-
teristic of their race ; an illustration of the per-
sistency of ideas when once firmly rooted in the
national mind.

The influence of Jewish thought and literature
must have been considerable, and men in no way
friendly to Messianic hopes would be influenced by
it less or more. When a new form of religion was
presented to such men they would, in the first
case at least, give it a respectful hearing and care-
fully weigh its claims. The civilised habit of



REFORMS 227

thought current at the time would ensure a full
measure of discussion from the philosophical stand-
point. This g-ave it an undoubted advantage.
Truth seeks the light and courts discussion, and
the more the teaching and claims of Jesus were
subjected to criticism and discussed on their merits,
the wider would the sphere of His usefulness
become.

Then the Apostles made it their business to
thoroughly know the peoples they addressed.
Whether Jews, Greeks, Syrians, or E.omans, the
early teachers of Christianity met them on their
own ground, and adapted their methods to suit
the peculiarities of each district or town. Their
writings clearly show that they made themselves
familiar with the thought, religion, and superstitions
of those they sought to influence, and when they
advanced the claims of their Master to universal
dominion over the hearts of men, it was to displace
beliefs the folly of which they were able to show.

Nor was this all. The Greeks, who ruled the
world of thought, were the most learned people in
the world. Poetry, art, sculpture and architecture
attained among them a degree of excellency which
has never been surpassed, while their philosophy
commands the admiration of the world after a lapse
of thousands of years. A philosophy which lives
still. Such were the people to whom the apostles
addressed the message they had for the world. A
people saturated with religious and philosophic
thought, and fully alive to all the advantages of
civilised habits of life.



228 EELIGION AND MYTH

Very different were those to whom Moses
addressed his prophetic message when he went
from Horeb to dehver them out of bondage. But
even they were far removed from the stage at which
the savage stands to-day. If they had lost the
early traditions of their own race they were
familiar with all that Egyptian religion and ritual
could teach them, and knew what of civilisation the
land of their sojourn contained. They were at that
stage of development when new ideas would be
seized upon, and held tenaciously by a large number,
and so become in time part of the national thought.
At an earlier period and in a ruder age, the father
and founder of the Hebrew nation, moved by an
impulse which struggled for expression, left his own
country and became a wanderer in obedience to this
conviction which he had. What thoughts of deity
struggled within him and found expression in words
seem to have been lost or forgotten by his descend-
ants, till revived by Moses, whose ethical teaching
during the early days of the wilderness journey was
of the most elementary kind. " Hear, O Israel, the
Lord our God is one God."

Round this central truth he grouped his doctrines
and expanded their conceptions of deity. These were
the spirituaHty of God ; His purity and holiness.
The cloud and the fire were the familiar emblems of
his teaching. By such means did he lead their
minds away from the Egyptian worship to a truer
and higher conception of the One God.

Now to savage man these are absolutely new con-
ceptions, but they are such as he can reach by way



REFORMS 229

of analogy and comparison. His own ideas of public
and individual morality, on certain lines, help him,
and his conceptions of the spirits of greatly revered
ancestors lead up to an appreciation of the idea of a
holy, just, and upright God. " The ancestors never
do wrong " is a cardinal article of African faith.
Beyond this he cannot travel unaided. A man god
he can understand, and one may develop any day
under his very eyes. A God man is beyond his
mental vision. Nothing corresponding to this was
ever known to happen. Nor did the Hebrews for
many a weary generation after the Exodus reach
the point at which we expect to find the savage
ready to join us. It is true many embrace Chris-
tianity, and are in some respects patterns worthy of
our imitation, because they regulate their conduct by
the religion they profess, but as regards an intel-
lectual understanding of, or an attempt at under-
standing, the conceptions of deity common in Europe,
few attain to that on first emerging from savage life
and the faith of millenniums. The form of their
thought is something like this : — " The Lord Jesus
was holy, pure, sinless, good. God loved him above
all other men. The spirit of God w^as his, God dwelt
in him, and he speaks to us the words of God." If in
this estimate of the conceptions of the Incarnation
by men emerging from the savage life, I can be shown
to be in error, no one will be better pleased than I
shall be myself That many native Christians can
glibly repeat our church formulas I am aware, and
the missionary who is content with that as an
evidence of an understanding of Christian doctrine is



230 RELIGION AND MYTH

a happy man. He will burn with indignation at
native Christians being ti'aduced, as he will feel
certain they are, by what has been said. But if he
will take the trouble to occupy the same hut, with
half a dozen of his deacons or other office-bearers on
a Sunday night, and, pretending to be fast asleep,
listen to a discussion of his own sermon, he will
sfet a rude awakenino-. The oftener he does this the
clearer will be his light if the greater his surprise.
By such means, and by casual questions to men off
their guard, did I learn what little I know of native
thought pure and unadulterated. The results of my
experience I have faithfully portrayed so far as that
could be done in a few sentences.

Standing face to face with such facts the questions
which meet us on the threshold are not to be
answered in the airy manner suggested by those who
would send Bibles in countless thousands to savage
lands, or who would supply each man with a pick and
a mattock. To make an impression on any people it
is necessary to reach down to their level of
thought, and become literally what St. Paul pro-
fessed to be, " all things to all men." If we are to
win primitive man to a higher and better life, or
in other words, if he is to escape extermination,
we must first of all know him. It is said there is a
bit of the savage in every man, but this has been
covered over with so many layers of lacquer that
the child of the forest fails utterly to recognise as a
brother his civilised visitor.

When we have arrived at such knowledge of the
savage's thought as we can attain to, our next care



REFORMS 231

is to bring before his mind such conceptions as he
can appreciate. The gulf between civihsed man
and savaofe is too oreat for the latter to realise at a
bound, that it is possible for him to attain to all that
the former has attained to. We, on the other hand,
are so impatient of results that we expect the native
to take kindly, in a single generation, to what it has
taken us millenniums to reach. We forget how long
it took the world to make a sewing-machine, and that
we live in the age of Singers', while the African
represents that of awls and sinews.

But if the first facts and truths presented to savage
man must be simple, they must be none the less
practical on that account. It is not necessary to
denounce his customs as wrong and all wrong, for in
point of fact they are not. There are certain facts
and ideas common to all men, and these can be made
the basis of instruction. For example. All natives
regfard theft as an evil and a crime ; theft from a
fellow tribesman, or superior being a special ag-
gravation indicative of deepest depravity. So, too,
are acts leading to war, arson, murder, and many
more. Here we have something with which to begin.
A moral foundation, based on a native philosophy,
which all admit as true. But even here the savage
has to learn much. It is wrong for a neighbouring-
tribe to cross the border and steal his cattle, but it
somehow does not occur to primitive man that it is
wrontr for himself to cross that same border and

o

steal his neighbour's cattle.

Passing from the moral code to conceptions of
deity, we are on less solid ground, and opinions may



232 RELIGION AND MYTH

differ as to the best methods to be followed. It
seems to accord with reason that the same steps
should be followed as in the moral code. One God,
supreme, and omnipotent. Men responsible to Him,
and their actions having a moral value are ideas
which the savage can readily grasp. When we come
to deal with the future, and the connection between
this life and man's destiny, we are on less familiar
ground, and primitive man is utterly at sea. The
ideas are new, and nothing in his philosophy helps
to explain them. The whole is a " white man's
thing." The white man has, unfortunately, so many
incomprehensible "things," some of them wise, some
foolish, that this is apt to be the end of argument and
of effort. If it is a " white man's thing," pure and
simple, it is no use to try, for his magic is the more
powerful. An intelligent and, I believe, truly pious
man once said to me, " Master tells us to do, do; try
again till we can be like the white man, we, or our
grandchildren. How can that be ? I heard my
missionary say many times we are the race of Ham,
and in the Bible a curse was upon them. That curse
is on us. That is why we are not like the wdiite
men. It is no use to try." These were his exact
words, and if they prove nothing else they prove
this : — That ethnology is not a suitable study for
primitive man, nor for some missionaries. Perhaps,
it is not suitable for public preaching to civilised man
or savage. It may prove too much or too little.

With the growth of thought, when new ideas
become common property, j)rimitive men will move



REFORMS 233

forward with the progress of the world. The pro-
gress should now be much more rapid than when the
Greek mind worked its way to a philosophy which
still lives. The results and experience of the past
affords an immense leverage, and what we need is,
that the Christian thought of the Western world,
and with it, the ideas of life, private and national
which are consistent with such thought, should be
presented to the savage mind in the form most
attractive to men, and as they advance the dawn of
a new intelligence will come with the opening up of
a new world of thought and work. As new ideals
fill the mind, the old will be displaced and forgotten,
as has already happened to systems which crumbled
under their own weight. The traces of these


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Online LibraryJames MacDonaldReligion and myth → online text (page 15 of 18)